Anyone who has read my writing knows that I absolutely love the King Air lineup of airplanes. Rugged, reliable and easy to fly and maintain. And today, there are many types of King Airs serving in a multitude of general aviation and military roles, each with specific abilities and associated costs. The highly successful King Air 90 spawned the 100 series, which spawned the 200 series, which spawned the 300 series.
When filtering between the various models, how should one decide which one is right for their mission and budget?
For this discussion, let’s assume you have a $500,000 to $800,000 budget, routinely fly six passengers with bags, and travel less than 1,000 nm on your bread-and-butter flights. There are several airplanes you might consider, but two that will probably make your shortlist are the King Air 200 and the King Air C90. I fly both frequently, so I thought it would be good to leap into the gap and relate my thoughts.
The King Air 90 first appeared in the mid-1960s and quickly became a workhorse for business and private aviation. Normally configured with seven total seats (two crew seats, four in club seating, and a belted toilet), the King Air 90 can haul a load. The basic fuselage has not changed greatly over the years, but Beechcraft has added bigger engines (E90/F90/F90-1), upgraded avionics and a gorgeous tricked-out interior as the years have progressed. With more than 3,100 airframes built in the long production run (over 50 years), there’s no doubt that the 90 series is well-liked.
The King Air 200 boasts a larger cabin (two crew seats, seven cabin seats, and a belted toilet), has bigger engines (PT6-42) and larger wing (more fuel), and a large aft storage area. The 200 series is easily the best-selling turboprop of all time (more than 3,800 built since 1972), with Textron Aviation continuing to roll the latest King Air 200 series (King Air 250) off the line today. The past has been great for the 200 series, and the future looks even brighter for this completely capable airplane.
When contrasting the two, the 200 is bigger, faster and carries more, but it also costs more to purchase and feed. So, do the advantages of the 200 outweigh the cost efficiencies of the 90? Which one should you buy if you have six-person/1,000 nm mission and budget under $1 million? Let’s explore some of the nuances before answering that question.
To me, one of the greatest advantages of the King Air 200 over the King Air 90 is pressurization. The 200 has a maximum differential pressure of 6.5 psi while the 90 sits at 4.6 psi. While those two numbers may not seem dramatically different, the practical application means that a 90 will rarely be operated at FL230 (or above) because the cabin pressure will be over 10,000 ft. “Home” for the 90 is the upper teens and lower 20s, so the cabin altitude is kept lower. On the other hand, the 200 can fly at FL280, just under the RVSM limit, and still have a cabin altitude under 7,000 MSL. Big deal? You bet!
Remember, the effects of hypoxia are exponential, and you’ll arrive at your business meeting after a long flight feeling much better if you flew that long flight at a 3,000-foot lower cabin altitude. Plus, at FL280 there’s rarely a structural icing challenge because the outside air temperature (OAT) is simply too cold for structural ice to develop. FL280 also allows the pilot to get on top of more weather.
There’s also a difference in the landing gear between these two airplanes. The 90 has a single large tire on each landing gear trunnion, and the 200 has dual axles on each main landing gear trunnion. While both are rugged and strong, if a 200 pops a tube/tire on landing, there is the ability to taxi off the runway to a maintenance hangar for repairs. If the 90 pops a tire, that’s where that airplane will sit until a maintenance provider can clean up the mess.
There’s also a significant speed difference. A stock C90 will cruise around 225 KTAS at the high teens/low 20s, but the 200 will cruise about 275 KTAS at its normal cruising altitude of the upper 20s. Fifty knots in cruise is a big deal. I usually preach how the difference in cruise speed is not a big deal, but when it is nearly a 20 percent increase in speed, I make an exception.
Another serious purchase consideration: the footprint. The King Air 200 is taller and has a wider wingspan than the 90. On my airport, there are several hangars that will easily handle a 90, yet could not fit a 200. So, make sure that you’ve got the hangar space available to hold the bigger airplane. The bigger footprint also means that ramp fees at away-from-home airports will be more. Bottom line: A 200 will cost more to store when not flying. Both the 200 and the 90 are airplanes that should not sit outside subjected to the elements. Hangaring is a necessity.
Having illustrated some of the differences, there are some striking similarities. The “feel” of the cockpit is about the same in both airplanes. While the 200 does have a bigger cockpit, the space for the pilot is about the same, and there are many exactly-the-same parts such as the seats, rudder pedals, windscreen size and yokes. The pilot experience in both airplanes is very good, with plenty of room for the tall/wide pilot, the short/thin pilot, and everyone in between.
Another similarity is the range and fuel burn for a mission. Both airplanes will take six people about 1,200 nm on a full load of fuel. The 90 will burn slightly less fuel overall, but not by a significant margin. The 200 will burn more fuel per hour, but it is going faster, flying higher and will arrive earlier – allowing the fuel burn for most missions to be reasonably close.
The training requirements are identical (neither need a type rating), and the maintenance requirements and costs are nearly identical. Both are upgradeable with a plethora of now-available STC upgrades on the market, both have support from the factory, and both are reasonably easy airplanes to fly.
What is more, any King Air will have the all-important belted lavatory. I’ve found the toilet on the 90 and 200 to be a real necessity for true passenger comfort. Although the toilet portion of the lavatory seat is rarely used, it is reassuring to know it is available. While the seat forces the occupant to sit sidesaddle, there’s plenty of legroom and comfort if you can get past the stigma associated with its location.
Which one will cost more to acquire and operate? The cost of a C90 born in 1980 with mid-time engines, decent avionics and acceptable aesthetics will cost about $500,000. The same year model 200 will cost about $750,000 ($250,000 more). But, I contend that a 200 and a 90 can be operated for about the same cost per mile, which is the real
barometer for operating costs. The 200 will have a higher fuel burn/hour, engine reserve/hour, and cost/hour, but it’ll get more done in that hour and end up costing about the same on a trip basis, or annual basis.
So, which King Air should you purchase – the 200 or the 90? If you can afford the additional acquisition cost, access a large hangar, and don’t mind flying with some empty seats, I suggest the 200 because it is a more capable airplane. The pressurization, additional cabin space and speed are welcome benefits. And, there’s another reason that few buyers consider in their purchase decision: mission creep.
Mission creep happens when an owner buys an airplane and then realizes that tool can be used for more missions than originally intended and operates the airplane more than expected. If you carry six people for your routine flights, the probability is they’ll want to bring their friends and you’ll end up filling more seats if those seats are available. And, we’ve all got those friends and family members who just don’t understand your request for them to “pack light” and show up with a large suitcase for an overnight trip. Whatever you think you are going to do with your airplane, it is best to assume you will end up doing more. If you have a 200 in the hangar, you’ll be ready when mission creep occurs.
So, if you choose a 90, great! It is a wonderful airplane that will serve you well. But, the 200 is a more capable airplane that will cost about the same to operate. Whichever you choose, know that you are buying a fabulous airplane that will serve you well.
Stay tuned for the next “Top Turboprop” comparison in the November issue.