Waterbomber set for passenger role

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Alan Peaford

A new sector in the regional aircraft market was confirmed yesterday when Beta Air outlined its plans to offer a 72-seat passenger version of its jet-powered waterbomber.

The Be-200 has impressed the crowds at Le Bourget with its fire-fighting capabilities, dropping 6,000 tonnes of water in the daily flying display.

But Beta - a Russian, Swiss and Ukrainian joint venture that brings together Beriev, Irkutsk Aviation Industrial Association and corporate financiers - thinks that there is a revolutionary new market for the aircraft.

Beta Air director general Victor Kobzev says the aircraft's flexibility will drive the order book up. He believes a changing market for regional passenger transport will be the key.

Emerging

An independent Western market study shows a demand in emerging and remote nations for increased air traffic.

"But often there is not the infrastructure or the finance for big land-based airports and we will see a re-emergence of the hydroport," says Kobzev.

Beta says the passenger-carrying version of the waterbomber, dubbed the Be-210, will take between 64 and 72 passengers. The aircraft could be powered by BMW Rolls-Royce BR715 engines - the same as those used on the Boeing 717.

The price will range between $20 million and $25 million - comparable with that of the Canadair amphibian.

"The choice of engine and other things will be up to the customer," says Kobzev. The D-463 TP turbofan engines on the demonstrator were developed by Progress Design Bureau and manufactured by Motorsiich of Zaporzhye. The Rolls-Royce AE3000 engine could also be fitted.

The research has shown that much of the Pacific Rim area could use a regional amphibian. "We have had talks with Thailand, Australia, Japan and China," Kobzev says.

The beauty of the aircraft, says Beriev general designer Guennadi Panatov, is that it can switch quickly to a cargo configuration. Beta believes that the market could be in the region of 300 aircraft in the next 10 years.

Beriev, the design bureau, has been involved in amphibians for more than 65 years It launched the MBR-2 in 1934 and has produced dozens of successful hydroplanes since.

In 1991 at Paris the company showed the Albatross A-40 which has been used successfully in Russia since.

Albatross

"The Be-200 follows the Albatross," says Panatov. "We have developed the aircraft from that."

Irkutsk will assemble the aircraft. The firm is renowned for its work on fighters and built the Sukhoi Su-30, and the MiG-23.

The aircraft, which first flew in September last year and is on target for its certification in Russia next year, is aiming to take on Bombardier's Canadair CL-415 head to head in export markets.

There have already been seven orders and Beta expects more. "This aircraft is superior to the Canadair one," says Kobzev. The Be-200 can scoop double the water taken by CL-415 and has long-range capabilities.

"We went to the West to get the market research," says Kobzev, "We had funding from Switzerland. This is a real project. But we have limited resources for marketing and have invested in developing the aircraft."

Bombardier yesterday announced the sale of a CL-415 to Croatia, the fifth to be owned by the Ministry of the Interior.