Demand for lift has sparked a resurgence in refurbishment activity at Flying Colours Corp. (Booth 4657), including conversions of the Bombardier CRJ-200 regional jet. That's a market the Canadian Bombardier MRO specialist pioneered more than a decade ago. The CRJ-200 program is now owned and supported by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
“The demand for charter and for private flying that has risen out of Covid has created a niche for the conversions, and you can buy [CRJ-200s] cost-effectively from airlines no longer using them,” Flying Colours executive v-p Eric Gillespie told AIN on the eve of NBAA-BACE. “It’s an excellent choice for owners seeking a fully customized aircraft, and we have seen more inquiries in the last six months than in the last few years.”
Flying Colours is showcasing images and details of recently completed refurbishment and conversion projects this week at the show, a trend further pushed by the dearth of quality large-cabin aircraft available for sale and growing OEM backlogs.
“In a market where good aircraft are hard to find, and new-production aircraft waiting times are long, conversions provide an excellent solution for operators who want to quickly access aircraft,” said Gillespie. “You can get a used airplane and refurbish it to your own specifications for a lot less cost than buying new.”
The basic ExecLiner conversion of the CRJ-200, introduced in 2008, features a 14-seat interior comparable to that of a large-cabin jet. “You essentially get the same-size cabin as a Bombardier Global 6000,” said Gillespie, with the range and performance of a super-midsize jet. Optional auxiliary tanks can boost the range by more than 50 percent, to 3,100 nm.
The interior outfitting and layout can be adapted to the needs of individual customers. Flying Colours has performed more than 30 of them “in every possible configuration,” Gillespie said. That includes VIP; corporate shuttle; medevac; VIP/medevac change-out; special mission; and more than a dozen additional VVIP ExecLiner completions on green CRJ-200 airframes.
Most shuttle configurations opt for 16 to 18 business jet seats. But a conversion now underway is being outfitted to cater to sports teams, touring music groups, and corporate customers and features a 29-passenger split layout: a galley and six business jet seats and a divan in the front of the cabin and 20 airline-style seats behind. Side-ledge storage provides room for laptops, purses, and briefcases, with stowage for small suitcases and carry-ons fore and aft. Onboard high-speed Wi-Fi is provided by Gogo Avance L5 connectivity, though Ka- and Ku-band satcom options are also available.
Demand is also strong for interior upgrades on legacy Bombardier Challenger 850s and Globals, and the company has extensive refurbishment and completions experience with both models. In fact, some recent projects have involved airframes the company performed initial completion work on more than a decade ago, Gillespie said.
The recent refurbishment of a 20-year-old Challenger 850 included an avionics upgrade and exterior paint, in addition to a complete interior overhaul. Tasked with creating “a modern yet elegant interior with a genuinely unique style” for use in the charter market, the cabin’s 12 seats became the focal point of a diamond-pattern-themed interior, with seatbacks hand-stitched in quilted diamond patterns, complemented by custom-designed carpets. The new livery was applied at the company’s paint facility at its Peterborough, Ontario headquarters.
Gillespie cited other custom touches on recent projects: a countertop and sink of satin nickel-plated stainless steel. A thin and challenging material to work with, the metal was molded into a seamless surface for a large-cabin galley with matching countertops in the forward and aft lavatories.
For an owner who uses custom-designed curved water bottles for water from his own spring, Flying Colours created custom drink holder inserts, made of quarter-inch thick Lexan, cradling the bottles perfectly in the cooler drawer. The inserts can be removed to accommodate regular-sized bottles.
“We can do it all under one roof,” said Gillespie, noting the company has the engineering, certification, interiors craftspeople, technicians, and other skills and capabilities required in-house, providing more control over project outcomes and delivery schedules. Flying Colours also has MRO facilities in St. Louis.
Gillespie acknowledged the choices a customer faces when planning a refurbishment or conversion can seem overwhelming. But he advises anyone taking on the challenge to start by answering a few basic questions: “What’s your mission? What’s your end goal? Are you going to charter it out? In which case you want to look for more durable fabrics and materials, or are you just going to use it for yourself and want to make sure it's 100 percent customized to what you and your family want?
Going forward, additional commercial platforms may be targeted for makeovers. “We've seen interest in Embraer conversions on the ERJ-135 and -145, and we’ve talked to customers about the E190.” Though discussions are preliminary, “the interest is there,” Gillespie said. “That's from all over the world, not just North America.”