Aeronautical Engineers (AEI) has officially launched its Bombardier CRJ100/200 special freighter (SF) conversion programme, which entails cutting a large cargo door in the aircraft.
AEI's head of marketing Robert Convey told Flightglobal in January that the carrier was going to follow through the programme after gauging market interest, with plans to fill 20 conversion slots from four to five customers once certified. AEI is expecting the certification process for the first aircraft to take about two years.
AEI is seeking type certification (STC) from the US Federal Aviation Administration, and it also plans to apply for approvals from Transport Canada, the European Aviation Safety Agency as well as Australian and Russian aviation authorities.
Bombardier and AEI first proposed the freighter last October, citing a need within the cargo market for a modified CRJ100/200 with a large cargo door.
The aircraft will fill a niche of operating on long, thin routes, Bombardier and AEI say. Customers from Europe, Africa, Canada, Mexico and the US have shown interest, says Convey.
Canada's Cascade Aerospace has been offering a freighter modification for the aircraft type since 2007, but only five aircraft have been converted under that programme so far. But AEI and Bombardier are hoping that market factors - such as the fleet reaching mid life and coming off of leases from North American operators - will spur greater interest in the new conversion.
"As with many successful freighter conversion programs in the past, the CRJ100 and CRJ200 aircraft have now entered the zone of conversion. This means that the oldest CRJ100 and CRJ200 aircraft can be acquired at a cost that is conducive to conversion," says Convey.
The CRJ100/200SF will feature a 2.39m (94in) by 1.96m (77in) cargo door into the fuselage's left side and will be able to carry a maximum payload of 6,080kg (6.7t). The aircraft will feature a Ancra cargo loading system.
The modifications will be performed by AEI's Miami-based conversion centre Commercial Jet.