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Saab starts new venture to meet corporate demand

KATE SARSFIELD / LONDON

Used regional 340 turboprops receive new lease of life in USA as company shuttles

Saab Aircraft Leasing (SAL) and aviation service provider Piedmont Hawthorne have formed a strategic alliance to remarket 340A/B regional turboprops. The move is in response to US demand for affordable, flexible methods of corporate transport. Saab halted 340 production in 1999.

The US-based venture enters a market already addressed by BAE Systems' asset management arm, which claims to have placed over 40 Jetstream 31/32 turboprops in business and corporate shuttle configuration worldwide.

SAL chief executive Michael Magnusson says: "There is a corporate shuttle phenomenon. With airline travel becoming more congested and airfares continuing to rise, customers are seeking a more reliable method of [air] transport."

SAL admits its foray into the business aircraft market is not new: "We had limited success before as we did it alone, although we have placed a number of Saab 340 shuttles worldwide, [which continue in operation]. Corporate operators include internet service provider AOL, the University of Indiana, Sweden's Volvo, and mining companies in Australia and South Africa," says Magnusson.

Piedmont Hawthorne will identify customers, overhaul and refurbish the aircraft, supplied by SAL, commonly in a 27-seat configuration and provide operational and product support if required. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based company is preparing a Saab 340 corporate demonstrator, which is set for completion by the third quarter of 2000. Around 20 aircraft are available for sale or lease out of a fleet of 450 aircraft, says SAL.

To satisfy demand for Jetstream 31/32 turboprops from business aircraft clients, Asset Management established a specialist division last October, Trading and Services. This is dedicated to sourcing and buying back former BAE types. The company estimates around 40 corporate-configured J31/32s are in service out of a current fleet of 360. These regional turboprops, for which BAE halted production in 1988 and 1993 respectively, have also found a niche within the fractional leasing market.

Last October, BAE and joint venture partner Corporate Aircraft Partners (CAP) launched a programme operating Jetstream 32EPs and now has a fleet of five, with the sixth set for delivery next month. CAP managing director Tom Keough says: "We hope to have a fleet of 20, 12-seat J32's within two years and are eyeing the larger Jetstream 41 [configured with 18 seats]. The first aircraft could come on line by early 2002."

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