Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

Aero International (Regional) (AI(R)) has seen its order backlog for the Avro RJ family doubled as a result of the $620 million deal with Northwest Airlines, which has exercised its options for 24 RJ85s. Deliveries are spread out over three years, however, so production rates will probably not be affected.

The first of the newly ordered RJ85s will be handed over in May 1998, with deliveries continuing during 1999 and 2000, says AI(R) senior vice-president for sales and marketing Jeff Marsh, although Northwest has the option to move some deliveries into 2001.

The options were placed by Northwest Airlines as part of its initial order in October for 12 RJ85s. Deliveries of the first batch began in April, and the 69-seaters are being subleased to the Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlink, Mesaba Airlines.

The RJ85s are being flown on a new operation, "Northwest Jet Airlink", replacing McDonnell Douglas DC-9-10s flown by Northwest from Minneapolis and Detroit. Capacity is limited to fewer than 70 seats, to meet Northwest's scope-clause agreement with its pilots.

The order, the largest placed for the RJ (and its predecessor, the British Aerospace 146), brings firm sales to 136, of which 89 have been delivered. RJ production at Avro's Woodford, UK, factory is running at around 20-22 aircraft a year, but, despite strong sales of the RJ in recent years, BAe has been reluctant to boost production.

"We are always studying possible rate changes, but we have to be convinced that any increase is sustainable," says Marsh. "This order has filled up 1998 production fairly solidly-we now have only a very small number of slots available next year," he adds.

The AI(R) partners are working to resolve their differences on development of the all-new 50- to 70-seat Air Jet, which would be introduced in the early 2000s, but Marsh expects the Avro RJ to remain in production until the middle of the next decade.

"Our business plan envisages production continuing until 2005, but in fact there is no 'hard' end-date-it depends on what plays out in competitive scenarios, particularly with the [McDonnell Douglas] MD-95. Next year, we could decide that RJ production would go on further," says Marsh.

Source: Flight International