BAE Regional adjusts to life after end of Avro production

 - October 9, 2007, 5:45 AM

Following production of the final Avro RJ, effectively the last new-build British airliner ever, BAE Systems Regional Aircraft has been restructured as a support company within its Aviation Services Group. Last November the company canceled the planned Avro RJX variant of the BAe 146 regional jet. “The removal of manufacturing means that we can concentrate on building a service business,” said new managing director Alan Fraser. “We are planning new ideas, service products and methods [to] meet the demanding needs of customers.”

Three main elements will constitute the new business: customer support, engineering and asset management. Fraser will oversee rationalization of several sites that will establish BAE’s Prestwick facility in Scotland as the main engineering and support center by the end of this year. Spares provision will be based at Weybridge, between London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports, and supported by other centers near Washington, D.C., and Sydney, Australia, while asset management will remain at Hatfield, north of London. The workforce will be reduced to 1,150 by next summer and the company plans to invest some £20 million ($29.3 million) in new information-technology systems and facilities.

The new business opens its books with a customer base comprising more than 1,100 aircraft in service (including a trading portfolio of almost 450 machines) and an annual turnover of some £170 million ($250 million), excluding residual manufacturing. “We are building on a support business with a reasonable reputation,” said Fraser. “There have been tremendous strides in our support business over the past ten years, but now we plan to do more.” He acknowledged, however, that service businesses require “a different way of working [with] efficient processes and rapid decisions.”

The new business intends to return BAE regional aircraft activities to profit, maintain the customer base and revenues and reduce costs. Asset-management activities will also develop new markets and associated service products, including freight applications of the ATP regional turboprop and, possibly, the BAe 146 regional jetliner. Trading and service business is to be expanded to include types such as the Airbus A319 and A321 airliners (of which BAE offered four and one, respectively, to the market in April).

Expansion of BAE’s regional airliner spares business has already taken in European support managers from Embraer and Raytheon. Prestwick and the former Avro factory at Woodford, England, are set to become customer-training centers as the company assesses its future training strategy. BAE plans to retain engineering operations to develop planned cargo variants and to pursue additional third-party work similar to that at BAE’s military division, which produces components for Boeing airliners.

Analyzing the regional-airliner market, Fraser said order activity among regional jets and turboprops below 120 seats is “virtually non-existent. All manufacturers are suffering deferrals, cancellations and production cuts.” He cited Fairchild Dornier’s desperate need of a partner and Raytheon’s decision to cease production of the Beech 1900D. Although spares and support businesses were returning to pre-September 11 levels, oversupply meant that sales and lease activity had led to short-term rental discounts for certain types.

Fraser confirmed that BAE Regional Aircraft had received net orders for just 36 aircraft during the three years from 1999 to 2001, while this year had seen the loss of orders for 14 of the now-defunct RJX. Overall, net orders for regional jets with 70 or more seats from 1999 to 2000 totaled 550 (including 161 Airbus A318s, 36 Boeing 717s, 120 Embraer 170/195s and 141 Fairchild Dornier 728/928s), while last year had seen cancellations for such aircraft exceed orders by 24. In addition to the Avro RJXs, orders for a further 81 machines (including 50 Fairchild 728s) had been canceled early this year, according to BAE figures.

Recent business for BAE has included $260 million in lease income and $60 million in new lease business. Fraser said BAE derived 69 percent of its revenues last year from customer support, 20 percent from asset-management trading and services and 11 percent from engineering. More than 80 percent of customer support business came from spares provisioning and a further 7 percent from training services.

BAE’s asset-management “active” trading portfolio includes 165 Jetstream 31/32s, 11 BAe 146/Avro RJs, 40 ATPs and 32 Jetstream 41s. A further 99 aircraft (71 Jetstreams, 24 ATPs and four 146/RJs) sit idle in the 447-aircraft fleet. The company expects the active fleet to fall to slightly more than 300 aircraft by 2006. The BAe146/Avro RJs and Jetstream 31/32s each comprise about a third of the 1,173-strong fleet covered by BAE’s customer-support business. Almost a quarter are older Avro 748 twin-turboprops, while the Jetstream 41 and ATP constitute the remainder. Some 40 percent of the BAE-supported fleet operates in Europe, while exactly one-third operates in North America.

The company’s 1,153-strong workforce will comprise 572 in customer support, 413 in engineering, 111 in personnel, finance and marketing and 57 in asset management. One in five employees works in Toulouse, France, where BAE based its abortive joint partnership with the Franco-Italian ATR consortium.