Ill fated ambitions

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The Romaero Rombac BAC One-Eleven programme is rooted in former Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu's ambitions to make Romania independent of the Soviet Union. As a maverick among the former Communist Bloc leaders, Ceausescu had refused to take part in the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and later exploited initially good contacts with the West to secure funding for a policy of massive industrial expansion. As part of this policy, Romaero was to develop and build a 100-seat medium-haul jet airliner entirely domestically. "This was totally unrealistic," says Romaero's executive director for sales and marketing, Constantin Dinischiotu. "The development and manufacture of a new aircraft type was too much of a burden for the company to take on."

Co-operation with British Aerospace on the BAC One-Eleven began in 1975, with Romaero - then called Interprinderea de Reparatii Material Aeronautic (IRMA) - starting production of subassemblies such as the tailplane, elevator, rudder and leading edges of the wing and fin. In 1979, the co-operation was extended, with BAe awarding Romaero a licence to produce series 495 and 560 versions of the aircraft.

The first all-Romanian-built "Rombac" One-Eleven rolled off the production line in August 1982, flying for the first time one month later. Nine aircraft had been produced by 1992, and were sold to domestic Romanian carriers Tarom and Romavia.

New noise and pollution restrictions, along with the arrival of the competing Fokker 100 on the market in the late 1980s, led the company to realise that the programme would succeed in the longer term only if the aircraft were re-engined and modernised.

In 1982, Romaero started to negotiate with Dee Howard in the USA over a re-engineing programme using the 67kN (15,000lb)-thrust Rolls-Royce Tay 650 turbofan, which would have boosted performance and efficiency by 20%. The upgraded aircraft, known as the Airstar 2500, was to be a 96- to 115-passenger Tay-powered Series 560 airframe with a Honeywell glass cockpit. The maker claimed that it would be 15% to 20% cheaper than the competing Fokker 100.

According to Romaero, the programme suffered in the 1980s from lack of support by the Romanian Government, which was busy worrying about the growing national debt. An initial order in 1990 for 50 aircraft from Associated Aerospace fell flat when that company was wound up because of financial difficulties.

It seemed as if the One-Eleven's fortunes had changed in 1993, when the manufacturer won a launch order for 11 aircraft and five options from US carrier Kiwi International Airlines, in exchange for a $1 million investment in Kiwi.

The first Kiwi aircraft was to be delivered in 1995, but Romaero failed to find the necessary $100 million funding, and faced the problem that Dee Howard's re-engineing programme was halted in 1991. Dinischiotu says that, even today, the Airstar 2500 could still be a competitive product, but Romaero is not in a financial position to go ahead with the programme.