Finding a new role

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A newer generation of jet and prop types is beginning to replace the large fleet of turboprops and small jets that have been in production since the 1980s. As a result, many of these older craft are finding new roles in the cargo sector.

Numerous turboprop types already incorporate fairly large cargo doors for the baggage hold, so some conversions involve the less extensive modification of the passenger cabin to carry freight. However, there are several programmes that also involve the installation of a large freight door.

BAE Systems is aiming to re-energise the cargo conversion programme for the BAe 146, having completed the first conversion last year at Aerostar's Bacau facility in Romania.

This QT - a Series 200 - had been placed with Amerer Air, but the deal fell through, so the aircraft is being remarked along with a Series 300 that is under conversion.

bae 146m bae systems
 © BAE Systems

The company hopes to secure a launch customer and deliver the first aircraft by early next year. BAE Systems Asset Management vice-president of sales and leasing Bob Wikowitz told the recent Cargo Facts 2009 conference in Seattle, USA that the 146-300QT should be completed in 2010.

The QT features an E-Class interior and large, upward-opening freight door at the rear, and can carry a payload of 11 to 12.5t on a strengthened floor.

The converted freighter is one of several products BAE plans to offer as it looks for niches to keep the BAe 146 fleet flying as several passenger carriers begin to retire the aircraft. These include VIP, and firefighting and military transport/airlift applications.

Dubbed the 146M, the military variant could be equipped with additional fuel tanks, glass cockpit avionics, and steep approach and unpaved runway operating capability, says BAE.

Although it would not receive a rear cargo ramp for vehicle loading, the company envisages that it could be deployed for applications including medical evacuation, paradrop, surveillance, or even in-flight refuelling.

BAE says that the 146M would offer "cost-effective additional airlift capability" and cites a likely acquisition cost of $2-3 million for a passenger version and up to $5 million for a freighter.

TRANSFORMERS

Meanwhile, Canadian engineering specialist Cascade Aerospace delivered the world's first Bombardier Q400 package freighter to launch customer Nord-Flyg of Sweden in January. The modification, which creates a 9t payload freighter with a usable volume of 77m3 (2,713ft3), followed the award of a supplemental type certificate in December 2008.

The first modification was undertaken at Cascade's Abbotsford, British Columbia, facilities, and Nord-Flyg has been considering converting a second aircraft in Europe using a modification kit. Both aircraft were previously operated by SAS.

Cascade, which has also developed a PF conversion for the Bombardier CRJ100/200, says the freighter is based on a similar conversion undertaken to produce a multi-role firefighting aircraft, duties of which include fire control and passenger/cargo carrying, for the French government.