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BAE 146 seeks new role in military support

 - November 12, 2009, 11:12 PM

With the delay to the Airbus A400M in mind, as well as tight defense budgets, BAE Systems Regional Aircraft’s Asset Management unit is marketing surplus British Aerospace 146-200 and -300 airliners to military customers as low-cost tactical transports under the model name BAe 146M. BAE owns 47 of the four-engine, high-wing jets, many of which are now coming off lease as airlines replace them with new regional jets.

Although the 146 does not have a rear-loading ramp, “it could be a complementary utility aircraft to hard-pressed tactical airlift assets,” according to Andy Whelan, BAE sales director. BAE will soon have two 146s available with side cargo doors, which the company converted speculatively but for which it failed to find takers in the airfreight or express business. They can carry 22,050 to 26,460 pounds of payload.

The 146 already is certified for steep (meaning tactical) approaches into small airfields and can operate from unpaved runways with minimal modifications. Other mods could include additional fuel tanks, and quick-change or combi configurations. Five air forces already operate 146s or the newer RJ version as VIP or staff transports. Another 25 are in service as business jets.

BAE has quoted an “indicative” price of $2.5 million for a passenger 146 and $5 million for a freighter, and says that “innovative commercial terms” are available to governments and defense ministries. The company estimates there currently are more than 1,700 such aircraft in service with nearly 150 air arms worldwide, and many of those are more than 40 years old.

According to BAE, the BAe 146M could also be used by air forces to complement existing fleets of tactical airlifters, such as the C130 Hercules, by taking on a wide variety of nontactical air transport roles and thereby prolonging the fatigue life on aging tactical assets. It claims the BAe 146M has a performance capability that means it also can realistically undertake some of the more challenging air transport support roles, including operations from unpaved runways.

Many of the BAe 146s being offered have yet to reach half life and BAE says that, given typical military usage, the aircraft can be expected to offer reliable service for many years. As pure passenger aircraft, the jets will seat between 80 and 109, while as freighters they will carry between 11 and 12.5 metric tons (up to 27,557 pounds) of cargo. The aircraft is also well suited to multimode roles such as combinations of passenger and freight payloads, paratroop transportation, medical evacuation, forward air refueling and surveillance.

Projected delivery timescales for the 146M are quite short, allowing the aircraft to be put into service relatively quickly to meet current airlift shortfalls. BAE offers a range of modifications, such as additional fuel tanks and LCD flight deck displays.