B-N putting a positive spin on its propeller-driven aircraft

 - January 14, 2008, 5:42 AM

Despite the encroachment of ever lighter new jet aircraft on the traditional marketplace for piston- and turboprop-powered models, there are always going to be requirements that can be cost effectively met only by rugged and versatile workhorses such as the Britten-Norman Islander. Three decades after the aircraft entered service, some 800 of the family (including the larger, three-engine Trislander) remain in service out of a total output exceeding 1,250 airplanes.

Two years ago the UK airframer was rescued from bankruptcy by Oman’s Zawawi family and now, having been restructured as the B-N Group, it has recommitted to keeping the 10-seat Islander in business by agreeing to a further production run of 24 more aircraft over the next two years. It is also building a business case for resurrecting the 18-seat Trislander.

B-N is continuing its efforts to develop a version powered by 350-hp diesel engines through its Aeronexx joint venture with French company SMA. The partnership has already certified a 230-hp diesel for the single-engine Cessna 182.

Mindful of the anticipated phasing out of 100LL avgas, the company is eager to offer alternative powerplants to the Lycoming IO-540 piston engines that currently power the Islanders and Trislanders. The turbine-powered BN-2T Islander is available, powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce 250-B17Cs each flat-rated to 320 shp.

Further powerplant improvements are being contemplated with the possible introduction of a Hartzell three-blade, scimitar propeller to reduce noise. Under intense local environmental pressure, German operator FLN (Frisia Luftverkehr Norden–see box) has replaced the standard two-blade propellers on its Islanders with a four-blade unit from Munich-based MT.

The new batch of Islanders will continue to be built under contract by Romanian manufacturer Romaero, with completions work and systems integration conducted by the B-N Group’s Britten-Norman Aircraft subsidiary at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. The Bembridge plant handles all engineering design and modification work for the many Islander variants, which also include the Defender 4000 surveillance platform for law enforcement and military applications.

According to B-N marketing director William Hynett, “several” of the new batch
of 24 Islanders are already “spoken for” by undisclosed customers, including a prospective new distributor. About half of these are intended for passenger-carrying applications, with the remainder being for a variety of unspecified utility roles. He said that interest in the Defender version has increased significantly in the aftermath of 9/11.

In addition to the standard passenger cabin configurations, both the Islanders and Trislanders can be provided with fewer seats in executive applications.

The first green aircraft arrived from Romania in early October and was due to be delivered to an undisclosed commercial operator by late December. The last new Islanders to be delivered were to FLN and Japan’s Kyokushin Air in the summer of last year. This past August, British Airways regional subsidiary Loganair received a factory-refurbished Islander.

B-N has decided it would need orders for just five Trislanders to relaunch the program, which was shuttered in 1980. The plan would be to have the aircraft built in kit form by Romaero for assembly in Bembridge.

Hynett said he has been fielding inquiries from prospective Trislander operators in locations as diverse as Fiji, Taiwan and the U.S. West Coast. Before Britten-Norman entered bankruptcy protection, China Northern Airlines signed a contract to buy three Trislanders with options for two more. According to B-N, this requirement still exists, and at least two of the kits for these aircraft have already been partly built by Romaero.

Initially, the company would retain the Lycoming piston engines for the Trislander but might look to have them adapted to run on jet-A. The resurrected model–designated BN-2A Mk III–would be priced at approximately $1.4 million and would probably feature some airframe and cockpit improvements.

Existing Trislander operators include Vieques Air Link in Puerto Rico; Aurigny in the Channel Islands; and Lecoqs, based at Bournemouth on the UK mainland. Islander operations include Aer Aerann (on the west coast of Ireland) and Loganair, serving Scotland’s Hebrides Islands.

Three versions of the Islander are available: the BN-2B-26, powered by a pair of 260-hp Lycoming IO-540-E4C5s, is priced at around $810,000 (IFR with standard passenger cabin); the BN-2B-20, with 300-hp IO-540-K1B5s, costs $880,000; and the faster BN-2T with its 320-shp (flat-rated) Rolls-Royce 250-B17Cs sells for just over $1.8 million.

In passenger applications, the Islanders are best suited to short-hop routes for which short-field capability and low operating costs are driving issues. The economical cruise speeds for the -26 and -20 are just 126 knots and 128 knots, respectively, rising to 150 knots for the BN-2T (see box for specifications and performance).

Frisian Islanders

Germany’s Frisian Islands provide a classic case study of the effectiveness of the Britten-Norman Islander family of utility aircraft in passenger service. The chain of seven slim islands sits just a few miles off the North Sea coast of Germany, but treacherous sand banks make for slow sea connections that have to be suspended altogether at low tide.

Operators hoping to provide island-hopping and mainland air connections need rugged, cost-effective aircraft with good short-field performance. Two of the three companies serving the Frisians have included Islanders in their fleets.

From a base at Norddeich on the mainland, Frisia Luftverkehr Norden (FLN) currently operates three Islanders to provide frequent connections to and between the islands of Juist and Norderney. Almost 30 miles along the coast at Harle, Luftverkehr Friesland Harle (LFH) uses several Islanders and Cessna 340s to fly to Norderney, Baltrum, Langeoog and Wangerooge, as well as to the more remote island of Helgoland.

Meanwhile, FLN’s sister company Ostfriesische Lufttransport (OLT) operates a fleet
of Islanders, Cessna 404s and 208s to link Emden with the island of Borkum. OLT also flies to Helgoland from Bremerhaven, Heide and Busum.

Flying times on the Frisian services range from just five to 15 minutes, with one-way tickets priced from around $30 to $50. Sailings take 60 to 75 minutes.

In the peak summer season, FLN schedules 10 daily round-trips to each of the islands. Like the other operators, it also takes charter bookings from groups of passengers so that during busy periods it is effectively operating a perpetual shuttle service during daylight hours.

Sometimes the rival carriers make aircraft available to each other to cover peaks in demand, and on one summer day eight years ago, FLN managed to carry just over 1,000 passengers. Typically, FLN carries 45,000 passengers annually. It employs just 12 people, including five pilots.

FLN’s parent company, Reederei Norden-Frisia, owns and operates the airport at Norddeich and also operates vehicle- and passenger-carrying ships to the Frisians. It sells tickets that are interchangeable between sea and air services–helpful at times when the ships cannot sail at low tide. For instance, sailings to Juist (where no cars are permitted) are sometimes possible only for the 90- to 120-minute period around high tide.

The runways available on the Frisian Islands range in length from just 1,395 feet to 3,280 feet. On Baltrum and Langeoog there are only grass strips.

FLN chairman Carl Stegmann said that the Islander has proved ideal for such short-hop services due to its low direct operating costs and ability to operate on short fields and in the strong wind conditions often found on the North Sea coastline. The airline has operated 10 Islanders in its history.