BAE Systems is out to tempt cost-conscious business jet buyers at EBACE by exhibiting for the first time its BAe 146/Avro RJ-based Avro Business Jet (ABJ).

The aircraft on show (static park bay 20) was acquired by Hemus Air of Bulgaria for use by its parent company TIM, and is an RJ70 converted from an airline layout to a VIP configuration by London Stansted airport-based Inflite Engineering Services (stand 896).

The aircraft - with an interior by UK consultancy Design Q - is also being offered for executive charters. It features a mood-lit cabin with double "club 4" executive seating and a dining and divan area, with a separate 12-seat business-class cabin for support staff.

UK manufacturer BAE (stand 190) began pushing the Avro Business Jet concept around two years ago as part of efforts to unload some of the 130-plus 146/RJs still on its books, the majority of which are leased out to regional airlines. Nine aircraft have been sold as ABJs over the past two years by BAE and third parties.

Avro business jet 
 © BAE Systems

Inflite has been selected by BAE as its preferred supplier of ABJ modifications in return for guaranteeing to keep at least one conversion slot available.

"We've made a commitment to BAE that we'll have a slot at any time," says Inflite Engineering Services managing director Steve Buckingham.

The ABJ project gathered momentum after the Bahrain air force approached completion centres seeking a club 4 seating and large TV screen installation for an RJ85. "No-one was specialised on this particular aircraft. We thought we could do it but needed BAE's help. The first aircraft was done in nine weeks," says Buckingham.

BAE's ABJ vice-president Stewart Cordner now sees potential for several sales a year, thanks to low aircraft acquisition costs and the unusual design aspects of the 146/RJ, including the fact that the type is equipped with four engines and has an airliner-sized cabin.

"I want to bust this myth on the four engines," he says. "It's a unique aircraft design because it's got short-field performance and redundant systems, as it was originally designed to serve remote airfields.

"Our measure of success is if we could sell seven or eight aircraft a year. I'd say there are 12 prospects, but eight or nine are more serious," he says.

"We just want to see all of our aircraft flying, whether as passenger aircraft, freighters, VIP, air tanker or special missions."

A pre-conversion 146-200 can be acquired for around $2 million and an RJ70 for $3.5 million, says Cordner. "We've got lots of 146s in the $2-5 million range. RJs are $3.5 million, to $8-9 million for a fairly youngish RJ85."

Avro Business jet interior
© BAE Systems

Cordner believes the four-engined146/RJ is also more suited for operations at noise-sensitive airports than other older types commonly used as executive aircraft, such as the Boeing 727-100, as it is equipped with large wheel brakes and no thrust reversers. Installation of an extra battery allows the first engine to be started electrically without ground power if the auxiliary power unit is unserviceable, which is attractive to operators serving remote locations.

BAE believes that many noisier types, such as the Boeing 727-100, which do not meet the latest regulations, will need to be replaced by used aircraft with a low cost of acquisition.

A low-utilisation maintenance programme has been devised for the ABJ, reflecting the fact that VIP aircraft typically fly 5-600h a year, compared with around 3,000h a year for an airliner.

Like most business aviation programmes, however, the ABJ has not escaped the impact of the global economic downturn, and some prospective sales have fallen through.

"We got very close to an Arabian deal. We had the money but it was refundable," says Cordner.

The VIP role is not a new one for the 146/RJ family. When the type was in production, several were sold as new-build business jets under the "Statesman" name and buyers included the Queen's Flight (Royal Air Force 32 Squadron) and Formula One motor racing supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

The BAE Asset Management portfolio comprises 50 BAe 146s, plus 82 of the updated Avro RJ models. BAE says 12 146s and five RJs are being offered for sale. Of these, two in particular are being proposed for conversion to ABJs: an RJ85 taken back as part exchange for a larger RJ100 recently sold to Abu Dhabi's Amiri Flight/Royal Jet. The second is an ex-Air Botswana 146-100.

In total, about 25 146/RJs have been converted for VIP use over the life of the aircraft programme.

Some modifications have been sold and completed by third parties, but BAE itself has placed the following ABJs: an 89-seat RJ100 for Ford Motor for corporate shuttle flights between the UK and mainland Europe; an Inflite-converted RJ100 for the Bahrain defence force; the Hemus RJ70 on display at EBACE; and a 146-200 for Casino Rodos nearing completion at Inflite, which was due to be handed over before the show.

Another RJ100 for the presidential flight of Abu Dhabi is due to undergo conversion at Inflite in May.

The Dubai air wing, meanwhile, has acquired three RJ85s and one has been converted by Avmax in Calgary, Canada and work on the second is under way. The third may be used for spares. Finally, a 146-200 has been modified for First Kuwaiti Trading and Construction, for use as a corporate shuttle in support of building projects in the Middle East and Asia.

Source: Flight Daily News