BAE Systems is pursuing two more launch customers for the RJX in addition to the already announced Druk Air order. The deals would increase its initial commitments to 20 aircraft.

The first RJX is set for delivery in September 2001 to an as-yet unnamed carrier - three months ahead of the first RJX-85 handover to Druk. CityFlyer Express confirms it is negotiating for a "significant number" of RJXs and possibly more RJ100s to supplement its existing 10 orders.

"The launch criteria is not just about selling large numbers of the RJX, it's also about selling transitional RJs before the RJX comes into service....Our aim is to restore the order backlog to 15 months," says Nick Godwin, BAE Systems Regional Aircraft vice-president sales and marketing.

Unfulfilled RJ85/100 orders total nine aircraft, or six months' worth of production, for Aegean Aviation, CityFlyer and Mesaba (operating as Northwest Airlink). Godwin notes that a similar drop-off in orders was experienced during the transition from the first generation BAe146 to the improved RJ series in the early 1990s.

The CityFlyer deal and a second smaller launch order from an unidentified short take-off operator have been frustrated by delays in the transfer of sub-100-seat mainline carrier routes.

CityFlyer had been expected to place an order on the basis of a reorganisation of parent British Airways' London Gatwick operations, but this process is on hold following the departure of BA chief executive Bob Ayling.

In the wake of its merger with Marconi Electronic Systems, BAE nonetheless decided to announce the Druk order "to signal to everyone that this aircraft is launched", says Godwin. BAE plans to follow the RJX-85/100 within 18-24 months with the smaller RJX-70 to complete the family.

While the company acknowledges that, as a standalone 70-seater, the aircraft has limited economic appeal, a corporate version has "a lot more possibility" and with the addition of auxiliary tanks its range could be extended to 4,620km (2,500nm) or more.

Source: Flight International