Dubai 09: Project Phoenix rises to airframer challenge

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Regional to corporate jet conversion specialist Project Phoenix (chalet B4) is planning to take on the big two airframers at their own game, by offering its own version of the A319-based Airbus Corporate Jet or the 737-derived Boeing Business Jet.

The Dubai-based company - which markets business aircraft versions of used Bombardier CRJ200 regional jets - believes the market is particularly ripe in the Middle East and Asia for a lower-cost rival to the manufacturers' own straight-from-the-factory VIP jets.

The company - which revealed at the EBACE business aviation show in Geneva in May that it was considering moving into BBJ conversions - is proposing taking low-cycle versions of either A320 family airliners or 737s from airlines or leasing companies and using a conversion specialist to install business jet interiors.

Another option for Project Phoenix is a version of a smaller regional jet, such as the BAe 146 or Dornier 328Jet, president Mike Cappuccitti said at the show yesterday. If it chooses the 146, it will be a much higher-spec derivative than that offered by BAE Systems itself, he maintains.

 © Project Phoenix

The company has still to make a firm decision about its new direction. "We are doing a lot of research into the market and this time next year you can expect us to make an announcement," he says.

"We will have to be sure of three things: we have to be comfortable that there would be a supply of airliners; that there is sufficient demand and that customers are ready to pay; and that we can produce it."

He adds: "At the moment it is a toss-up between Airbus and Boeing. The 737 is a proven airliner, but the fleet is ageing, so that might tip us towards Airbus."

Project Phoenix's established partner is Flying Colors of Peterborough, Ontario - which has completed the only Phoenix CRJ200 sold so far, to a Macau businessman - and it would be the preferred choice to do an ACJ or BBJ conversion. However, there are issues over whether the infrastructure at Peterborough could cope with such a large aircraft, says Cappuccitti.

Cappuccitti is confident of securing further CRJ200 sales as the market recovers. "We have a nice pipeline of interest from potential customers. It is a matter of them getting the confidence to start spending again," he says.

The company says the first CRJ delivered to Jet Asia on behalf of a private Macau businessman has enjoyed a smooth introduction into service. "The owner, his family and guests and all our staff who are handling the aircraft tell us that the Phoenix CRJ's configuration and workmanship are remarkable," says Chuck Woods, JetAsia's chief executive.

The aircraft has been operating privately around Asia since its arrival in Macau early September on journey lengths of up to 6h. The aircraft will be available for third party charter from early next year.

"From Jet Asia's perspective this is the first converted airliner in a market with a very strong potential. Although Asian business aviation was impacted over the past several quarters, aircraft orders are robust, charter flying is much improved, and the wealth of regional corporations and individuals suggest a very positive outlook," adds Woods.