35 years after the first BAe 146 regional jetliner took to the skies from the British Aerospace airfield at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is still working to extend the career of the four-engine aircraft and its later-build successor, the Avro RJ.
A total of 394 aircraft were built, with the final new-build aircraft delivered from the Woodford, Cheshire production line in November 2003. Around 220 of these aircraft remain in service today and the company underlines that they have “many years of productive service yet to offer”.
BAE Systems is offering an Avro RJ Life Extension Programme which commences at 40,000 flight cycles and clears the aircraft life limit up to 60,000 flight cycles. This programme is aimed at the Avro RJs currently coming out of mainline European service, many of which have accumulated between 20,000-35,000 flight cycles.
The aircraft is still finding favour with new operators such as Pionair of Sydney, Australia, which is just starting BAe 146QT (Quiet Trader) overnight freight services on behalf of Virgin Australia which has won a five-year $575m contract from TNT Express.
Pionair has also acquired two BAe 146-200QC (Quick Change pax-to-freight variants). One of these aircraft has been converted to a full QT freight configuration for use as a maintenance spare for this contract and for ad hoc charter work. The other QC is likely to be leased out to another operator in Africa.
Another new niche which the BAe 146 and Avro RJ have successfully penetrated is the Airtanker (aerial firefighting) role. Three operators in North America have selected the aircraft as their preferred 3,000 gallon Type 1 large airtanker. The latest operator to convert an aircraft is Air Spray of Chico, California, which is in the final stages of converting the first of five BAe 146-200s and anticipating Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) approval early next year ready for the 2017 fire-fighting season.
The two other operators – Conair/Aero Flite (RJ85) and Neptune Aviation Services (BAe 146-200) – each have seven aircraft in service.
In addition, BAE Systems Regional Aircraft has just announced that it is working towards the possible launch of a passenger-to-freighter conversion programme for the Avro RJ, building on the experience gained with the BAe 146QT. The principal variant for conversion would be the RJ100 which can carry up to 14t of cargo.
BAE Systems also says it will work with any potential Avro RJ Freighter customers to develop bespoke modifications for the aircraft to suit differing requirements, including loadmaster seat, extended range and increased/re-distributed floor loading.