BAE shelves 146 freighter conversions as market dries

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BAE Systems is not intending to continue with speculative conversions of 146 regional jets into freighters, after poor take-up in the market.

The manufacturer relaunched a conversion programme for the type, as the BAe 146QT, in early 2007 on the back of perceived interest from freight operators.

It was aiming the type at new customers as well as carriers using the British Aerospace ATP turboprop freighter.

BAE assigned a pair of 146s to the scheme and began conversions at the Aerostar plant in Romania. The first converted example flew in June 2008.

bae146 qt bae
 © BAE Systems

But BAE senior vice-president for sales and marketing Steve Doughty admits that the company had "not proceeded" with any more conversions, beyond the first two.

He says regional freight market economics "remain challenging" and further speculative conversions are "unlikely at this time", adding: "The market just has not justified it. We would love to do more conversions, but why do it when we can sell the aircraft as [an unaltered] passenger model?"

BAE's 146-300QT converted freighter, completed last year, has been placed on lease with Australia's Cobham Aviation Services. The original 146-200QT remains available, but Doughty says he is confident that it will find an operator.

In 2010 BAE's asset management division placed 52 aircraft with operators - of which 45 were 146s and Avro RJs - an increase on the 44 placed in 2009.

Doughty says there has been "considerable churn" in the market, which means that many parked aircraft have been coming back into operation following the economic downturn. "We don't have the number of returns coming back that we had last year," he says.

BAE's idle fleet stands at around 27 airframes, but the company says it aims for this figure to be "significantly reduced" by the end of the year.