EBACE: Nextant, HBC swap blows over re-engining programmes

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Nextant and Hawker Beechcraft have renewed their hostilities as the two companies fight for the upper hand in the market for re-engined Hawker 400-series jets.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Nextant chief executive officer Ken Ricci criticised Hawker Beechcraft's strategy and suggested it was unlikely that its rival's 400XPR would ever become commercially available.

"I don't think they'll get it built. Certification is a long way away," he says, noting that the 400XPR's first flight on 3 May was made with a non-conforming aircraft.

"First flight may have been accomplished but we know from having gone through it with a non-conforming aircraft, they really have a little ways to go." He suggests that it will be another 12 months at least before the 400XPR gains full certification. Meanwhile, Nextant received US Federal Aviation Administration approval for its Williams FJ44-3AP-powered 400XT in October 2011, says Ricci.

However, Hawker Beechcraft insists that the 400XPR is on course for certification in the third quarter. Brian Howell, Hawker Beechcraft vice-president aftermarket sales and business development, says the programme is "exactly where it needs to be". He adds: "We do have a bit of history as an OEM of certificating airplanes," he adds. "Nextant is not a company that's ever done this before."

The 3 May flight was "very successful", he says. "Every characteristic the pilot went after we achieved. Every scenario he put it through, it responded impeccably."

He adds: "The [400]XPR is the cornerstone of the new Hawker Beechcraft."

Production for 2012 is sold out, says Howell, and Hawker Beechcraft intends to deliver "double-digit" numbers of aircraft this year and 36 following next year. He declined to be drawn on the total backlog for the programme, save to say that it was a "double-digit figure", but hinted "big fleet orders" could soon be on the way.

Meanwhile, Nextant has taken a total of 67 orders for the 400XT, which will break even as a programme with the delivery of the 14th aircraft in July, says Ricci. At that point, build time for the remanufactured type should have fallen to eight weeks per aircraft, as the company makes full use of its expanded Cleveland airport site to produce a targeted 32 400XTs per month.

Ricci has identified a total pool of feedstock aircraft for the programme of a little under 800 types, including US Air Force T-1A Jayhawk jet trainers. He believes Nextant can secure 30-35% of these for conversion, or around 250 aircraft.

Both companies are pursuing similar strategies, with the chief difference the engines as Hawker Beechcraft will use the higher-rated Williams FJ44-4A powerplant.