UK aerospace division BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is linking up with all-cargo carrier West Air Sweden to launch a new BAe ATP freighter programme designed to expand the market options for the twin-turboprop.
The new freighter design features the incorporation of a sliding door similar to that used on the British Aerospace BAe 748 freighter aircraft.
BAE Systems is jointly funding and developing the programme with the Gothenburg based company, which itself has purchased six of the aircraft type, formerly operated by United Feeder Services (UFS), and has taken options on the three other ex-UFS turboprops.
Price of the ATP conversion is estimated at around $1 million per aircraft and the first conversions are expected to take place at the end of 2001.
Details of the new freighter programme were unveiled a joint press briefing in London this morning and reveal that much of the work on the upgrade will be carried out by the airline
Under the collaboration BAE Systems will provide the service bulletin for the installation of the new door and the upgrade will be issued as a BAE Systems approved modification. However West Air will be sourcing the parts and manufacturing the door itself, and could ultimately carry out third-party modifications for future ATP freighters customers.
West Air CEO Gustaf Thureborn explains that the company is already well experienced in this field, having introduced around 30 different modifications for its existing fleet of BAe 748s.
Explaining the decision to get involved he notes: "As an operator, you can't buy a mid-size freighter [off the shelf], so you have to do it yourself.
"We want to achieve time advantages. We have the knowledge and experience from modifying 748s. We are building the production facilities to carry out four mods a year and can expand that to six."
He says the door itself is a new design but that it does retain the sliding action from the 748. This he notes allows operators to continue loading even during high winds.
BAE Systems officials reveal that the company has been considering adapting the 748 door to the ATP for a while, but that it was West Air which acted as the catalyst for the move and was instrumental in changing elements of the design.
BAE Systems asset management director of business support Phil Rogers explains: "The main change was to move the door to the forward to the parallel fuselage."
The new door has been designed to allow the loading of LD3 cargo containers and will typically carry eight LD3s.
The manufacturer believes there is a market for the mid-size product, replacing older and smaller alternatives in the 5-8 tonne category and filling a gap between this market and the larger 10-12t aircraft.
Rogers says: " We have established there is a definite market niche for a short-haul, modern 8t turboprop freighter."