MEBAA Convention News

BAE’s RJs revived for corporate use

 - November 10, 2008, 6:36 AM

Airfield performance in hot climates, operational independence and customization flexibility are principal factors behind a recent upsurge of interest in corporate versions of the British Aerospace 146 regional jet and its Avro RJ variant, according to the manufacturer. By year-end, at least four aircraft are expected to have entered service with three Gulf customers: Bahrain Defence Force (BDF), Dubai Air Wing and Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting. Bulgarian customer Hemus Air and an undisclosed European company are also receiving aircraft this year.

BAE Systems Regional Aircraft (Stand No. 722) has a fleet of more than 20 in service or under conversion. At least 10 have been added to the fleet since 2006 when the manufacturer stepped up its efforts in the executive and VIP market.

For government-owned aircraft, a broad range of operational environments is more likely than for conventional corporate aircraft, so airfield performance can be particularly challenging, according to BAE. Strong airfield performance is more relevant to government VIP aircraft such as those with Abu Dhabi’s Amiri Flight, the BDF and the Dubai Air Wing. “Some of these private aircraft go into ‘interesting’ airfields to allow [royal] families access to hunting or falconry,” explained a company spokesman. For example, Dubai Air Wing’s recently acquired Avro RJ85 has been operating into and out of unpaved strips in Kenya at around a 6,000-foot altitude.

The manufacturer pointed out that the 146 is designed to operate from remote airfields as a regional airliner, a capability now valuable to corporate owners. To support such flights, it has developed several off-the-shelf modifications, such as forward and rear airstairs.

To serve its basic regional airline role, the 146 was built to endure both frequent short-duration flights and longer operations, a combination that BAE says has endowed the airframes with a long service life, as has continued technical support by the manufacturer.

BAE claims the aircraft offers “an airliner-sized cabin for the price of a small business jet,” with its passenger cabin being nearly the same width as that of the Boeing Business Jet and three feet wider than that of a Bombardier Challenger. Its four doors permit completely separate front and rear areas with discrete access, which means a head of state or principal can sit in a VIP cabin in the front, while their entourage occupies a business-class cabin behind. In contrast, some competing corporate aircraft have a single forward door that permits only a single seating area since a split cabin would contravene existing safety regulations. Another advantage claimed by BAE is the 146/RJ’s “cavernous” under-floor baggage areas.

The BDF’s VIP Avro RJ100 is configured with three internal sections. At front are two club-four areas with tables, a pair of lie-flat seats and two three-place sofas with tables. The central cabin offers a wardrobe, dressing area and toilet. At the rear, 34 airline seats accommodate support staff. The BDF was operating a pair of RJ85s prior to acquiring the 100.

The Dubai Air Wing has taken delivery of the first of two government RJ85s, which received a full VIP completion at Avmax Group in Canada. Avmax is converting the second aircraft to “full VVIP” completion for delivery before year-end, with additional modification work by BAE.

The BAE 146-200 that has been acquired by Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting is being used for corporate shuttle services in support of construction projects in the Middle East and Asia. Meanwhile, the Avro RJ70 recently obtained by an undisclosed European operator is understood to be available for executive charter and corporate shuttle work.

Separately, completion of a corporate RJ70 for Bulgaria’s Hemus Air (and the BDF aircraft) has been in the hands of Inflite Engineering at London’s Stansted Airport. At May’s European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Geneva, BAE announced a partnership with Inflite and cabin-design specialist Design Q to provide a one-stop shop for customers seeking a large-capacity corporate jet. Inflite will provide custom completion, maintenance and modification, while consultancy Design Q is offering interior designs.