BAE Systems expects to finally secure a new launch customer for the revived BAe 146QT conversion programme and deliver the first aircraft by early next year.
BAE revived the cargo conversion programme in 2007 and selected Romania's Aerostar to carry out the conversions. But the programme was set back last year when original launch customer Amerer Air of Austria cancelled its order.
BAE Systems Asset Management vice president of sales and leasing Bob Wikowitz told the Cargo Facts 2009 conference in Seattle this week that BAE now has two aircraft undergoing conversion in Romania. He says the first aircraft, a BAe 146-200, should be completed by the end of this year or early next year. He adds the second aircraft, a BAe 146-300, should be completed in 2010.
While BAE is converting these aircraft speculatively Wikowitz tells ATI a customer should be announced soon.
The converted freighter is one of several products BAE plans to offer as it looks for new niches to keep the BAe 146 fleet flying as several passenger carriers begin to retire the aircraft. Wikowitz says BAE has had recent success in selling the aircraft in a VIP configuration and is now also looking at modifying the aircraft into an air tanker for firefighting missions.
He says firefighting is "a very intriguing market" and BAE is now in discussions with several potential operators who are interested in using the 146 to fight fires.