Regional makeovers find a ready market

 - January 29, 2009, 8:24 AM

at a time when everyone seems to be looking for a bargain, regional jets reconfigured for an executive role–available at considerably less than half the price of
a comparable new airplane–are being widely promoted as just what customers are looking for.

Turning regional airliners into suitable business aircraft is not a new idea. The Dornier 328 twin turboprop was a popular regional aircraft and found a ready niche as a corporate shuttle. So did the Saab 340 and Bombardier’s Dash 8, also turboprop airplanes. They were economical to operate and designed for the kind of operational frequency and short-haul mission typically required in a shuttle service.

Then jets began replacing turboprops in the regional fleets and–not surprisingly– began finding favor as well in the business aviation community. In fact, the first BAe 146 from British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) went into service in 1983, and that same year, as the Statesman, it entered service in a head-of-state configuration with the 32nd Squadron of the British Royal Air Force.

Bombardier began offering the Canadair Corporate Jetliner executive and corporate shuttle variants of its CRJ100 in 1997, followed in 2005 by the Challenger 850, the 19-passenger executive version.

Fairchild Dornier’s 328JET was introduced as the Envoy 3 in 1997, available in both executive and corporate shuttle variants. In 2005, the last year it was produced, the aircraft sold for $14.5 million in a standard executive configuration.

In fact, there is today a sizeable fleet of converted regional aircraft flying as executive aircraft or in a corporate shuttle configuration. Ultimate Jetcharters of North Canton, Ohio, operates a fleet of 11 Dornier 328JETs in configurations ranging from 12-seat executive to 30-seat shuttle. The operator promotes the short-field capability and claims dispatch reliability of better than 99.8 percent.

And the airplanes are still showing up in broker inventories. In late December, Germania Executive, based in Friedrichstadt, Germany, was listing three Dornier 328JETs in executive or corporate shuttle configuration. One of them was a $7.8 million Envoy 3 with extended-range fuel tanks and a “quick-change” cabin to allow
the owner to switch the cabin from a 16-passenger executive configuration to a 32-passenger shuttle layout.

See Regional makeovers pdf