NBAA Convention News

BAe revives former airliners as corporate jet alternative

 - October 1, 2008, 7:04 AM

With a three-foot wider interior than the Bombardier Challenger 604, the Avro 146/RJ is claimed to offer “an airliner-size cabin for the price of a small business jet.”
Here at the NBAA Convention, BAe Regional Aircraft (Booth No. 1881) hopes to renew interest in the Avro Business Jet (ABJ) version of the venerable quadjet, which was produced from 1983 to 2002.

BAe Regional Aircraft currently has a fleet of more than 20 Avro 146 variants in service or under conversion. At least 10 have been added to the fleet in the last two years, when BAe reported a “renewed commitment” to the market. By year-end, six more aircraft are expected to have entered service with five VIP customers. The operators that are bringing the ABJ into operation this year are: Bahrain Defence Force, Hemus Air of Bulgaria, Dubai Air Wing, Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting and an undisclosed European operator.

At the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in May, BAe reconfirmed its market commitment by announcing a partnership with  aircraft-completion and cabin-design specialists to provide a “one-stop shop” for anyone seeking a large-capacity corporate jet. BAe partners will provide custom completion, maintenance and modification of candidate BAe 146/Avro RJ airframes, as well as executive interior designs.  

The manufacturer claims “all-time high” market interest in the business jet version of the Avro. “Sales have taken off in the past 12 months,” said sales executive Andy Whelan, an industry veteran who has worked with Raytheon Aircraft, Harrods Aviation and Jet Aviation. “We feel this is due to exceptional performance, large cabin and value for the money.”

Since announcing at EBACE that 23 BAe 146/Avro RJs had been (or were in the course of being) converted for several roles, the company has sold another corporate/VIP example, and last month was in “advanced discussions for potentially several more.” The latest sale could be confirmed here this week. BAe Regional Aircraft sees three applications for the ABJ: private use, business/corporate and executive charter. Targets for potential ABJ sales or leases include operators of more than 400 aging or noisy small converted jetliners (including the BAC 111, Boeing 727 and 737-200, Fokker F-28, McDonnell Douglas DC-9 and Tupolev Tu-134).

Others are high-net-worth individuals, corporations with “demanding” travel profiles, charter companies and executive airlines, said Whelan. With available used aircraft awaiting placement, the manufacturer believes the recent partnerships, an “attractive” price, long service life and OEM support will strengthen the 146/RJ conversion market.

BAe maintenance partner Inflite Engineering Services of the UK said it has completed some 500 146/RJ maintenance C-checks. “We have also built up our expertise in the corporate conversions market [and] work closely with design houses to produce varied interiors and in-flight entertainment options,” said a company official.

Its recent projects have included the Bahrain Defence Force RJ100. Inflite worked closely with BAe and another BAe partner, Design Q, on an RJ70 executive-interior conversion for Hemus Air that is scheduled for imminent delivery. The first such aircraft with a Design Q interior, it involves a double club-four seating section, divan and dining area, and a 12-seat business-class section.

Design Q’s customer base includes the Flight Vision design for the Bombardier Global Express flight-deck, upper-class seats for Virgin Atlantic Airways, all-class cabin redesign for Cathay Pacific Airways and work for Lufthansa Technik. Since its founding in 1997, the company has established a reputation for automotive work on behalf of Ferrari and Maserati.

In May, the Bahrain Defence Force received its VIP Avro RJ100 laid out with three cabin sections. At front are two club-four positions with tables, two lie-flat seats and a pair of three-seat sofas with tables. The mid-cabin sports a wardrobe and dressing area and toilet. In the back are 34 airline seats for support staff.

The first of two Dubai Air Wing government RJ85s has been delivered following VIP completion by Avmax in Calgary, Alberta, where full VVIP conversion work continues on the second example slated for delivery later this year. The initial aircraft has been operating from dirt strips and grass runways in Kenya at altitudes of around 6,000 feet. BAe won modification contracts for the second aircraft.

Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting is using its BAe 146-200 for corporate shuttle services supporting construction projects in the Middle East and Asia. Also, the RJ70 for an undisclosed European operator is expected to be offered for European executive charter and corporate-shuttle work.

Design Q can achieve “highly individual work with [the 146/RJ] because its large cabin offers untold opportunities,” said director Gary Doy. “There has been a [recent] shift in the values and aspirations of the VIP owner.”

He said that younger, “more design-aware” customers would like interiors “to reflect the values they have when buying a luxury car, yacht or new home. They are looking for both a more-contemporary and high-quality interior solution, and there is a trend toward more-open-plan layouts and modern surface finishes.”