DALLAS — January 26 is an important date in the history of Horizon Air (QX). Back in 2001, the airline became the North American launch customer of the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400. 22 years later, and on the very same date, QX bid farewell to the last of the type.
“That was a coincidence,” Joe Sprague, president of Horizon Air, commented to Airways at the gate in Spokane on the last flight of the Q400 in the QX fleet. “One of the AVgeeks posted after they saw the date, and while I would like to say we planned it this way, it was anything but.”
At one point, the regional airline was the largest operator in the world of the Dash 8 Q400, with 52 in service, serving the Pacific Northwest Region of the United States. During the 22-year history of the type, QX estimates that the Q400 has flown more than 250 million miles while carrying around 50 million passengers.
The send-off marks the end of an era for Horizon Air. The Alaska Airlines feeder, a turboprop operator since its founding in 1981, has now become an all-jet operator.
Going Retro for the Last Time
The commemorative flight AS2400 from Spokane (GEG) to Seattle (SEA) was operated by N421QX (MSN 4149), delivered new to QX in 2007. The aircraft received a special retro color scheme in 2019, featuring the original and distinctive orange and white colors of the airline. It was a fitting choice for the carrier to use this scheme on the final flights.
Flight AS2400 was a bittersweet one. Airline employees lined the ramp in Spokane and Seattle to catch a glimpse of the final flight. Once a common sight, the venerable turboprop is now part of aviation history in the Pacific Northwest.
Onboard, the mood was one of mixed emotions. As we landed in Seattle, there were many joyful claps of joy to celebrate the type retiring. Some aviation enthusiasts onboard came from as far away as Miami, just to be a part of the moment.
“Over the years, I witnessed so many extraordinary Pilots who truly have the ‘touch’ with this airplane,” said Horizon Air Captain Perry Solmonson. “Horizon has some amazing aviators here. It’s a privilege to serve in an organization that attracts and retains such gifted Pilots, a legacy I know we’re continuing on the E175.”
Solmonson has flown for Horizon Air since 1989 and he has flown on the turboprop side of the airline for his entire carrier.
Proudly All Embraer
The phase-out of the Q400 from Horizon Air’s fleet also means that the airline is now an all-jet operator, with the Embraer E175 becoming the standard of the fleet. QX currently operates 33 of the type and expects to be at 41 by the third quarter of this year, and 50 overall by 2026.
“We’re at a unique moment in time,” said Sprague. “With our shift to a single fleet of E175 jets, we’re laying a major new cornerstone of the foundation for our future.”
From a passenger experience standpoint, the Embraer E175 is an upgrade. The aircraft has larger overhead bins when compared to the Q400, which now means that you can take your carry-on bag onboard. Also, the E175s are equipped with Wi-Fi provided by Intelsat, a feature lacking in the now-gone turboprops.
Intelsat and QX will debut a new gate-to-gate Wi-Fi service, intended to start in 2024 as part of a US$25m investment. The companies say the new service will be the first commercial airline application of an electronically steered antenna, mounted atop the E175.
The Embraer E175 also implies the standardization of the classes of service throughout Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines (AS). QX will now be able to provide the same service classes as the mainline Boeing 737 fleet.
The Retro Still Remains, and a Personal Farewell
As for the retro paint scheme that was on N421QX, it now sits on N652MK (17000929). The ‘MK’ in the registration is a nod to Milt Kuolt, founder of the airline and a pioneer in the Pacific Northwest aviation industry. Originally, another Q400 had this honor (N434MK · MSN 4227), which featured the signature of the founder of Horizon Air on the nose area.
As someone who spent five and a half years working on the ramp with the Q400, it is a rather bittersweet moment. From the ramp operations perspective, the aircraft is one of the best you can ever work on, given the ability to fully stand up in the baggage compartment.
However, the aircraft was in a mood, and you wanted to be nowhere near it.
The gallery below has photos taken by Brandon Farris of the Q400’s final day of service from Seattle. These images are from several flights that 421 operated throughout the day along with additional photos from on the ramp in both Seattle and Spokane along with inflight.
Photo Gallery from Daniel Gorun who was also onboard the flight with Airways.
Featured image: N421QX departs from Seattle late in the evening after everyone had deplaned and it heads off to Portland where it will be the center point at a special employee party celebrating the Q400 the next day. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways