Once bitten, twice shy, as the popular saying goes. But apparently not so for BAE Systems, which has revealed plans to convert its out-of-production RJ100 for a new role, carrying freight.
If it feels like we’ve been here before, we have. Nearly five years ago, the UK company’s Regional Aircraft division pulled the plug on a failed project to modify unwanted BAe 146 quadjets by adding a cargo door. Performed with Aerostar in Romania, that effort resulted in only a single modifed aircraft – a -300QT – entering use, with Cobham Aviation Services. The only other example to have undergone work, a -200QT, sat unwanted, after its intended operator walked away.
Although no doubt scarred from its experience, BAE reveals that it has spent the last year looking into the viability of launching an RJ100 freighter programme, and it is looking for a customer to launch the venture. This time though, it will be conducting the work on home soil; at Glasgow Prestwick.
Beyond its intended second life as a bulk freight carrier, the company has over the last several years come up with some novel ideas for re-using the out-of-fashion regional jet. This has included converting a pair of the type for utility transport use by the Royal Air Force inside Afghanistan and a proposal – dormant so far – to adapt the type as a low-cost tanker.
A more outlandish concept to equip the type with a fold-down observation deck for use during safaris is headed for extinction, but in the RJ85 the family has made a successful transition, to become a bespoke firefighting asset for use in the USA.
With the addition of extended-range fuel tanks and helped by the low cost of oil, BAE believes the RJ100 could now be a highly attractive proposition for freight operators, and with a sizeable stock of the type still being operated, it might finally be set to succeed. The prospects of the venture going as badly as in Romania are unlikely – unless the company sells none at all this time, of course.
Finding new applications for aged airliners is both a challenge and an opportunity for many a manufacturer, and refurbished second-hand airframes would seem to be having an easier time at the moment than highly specialised giants like the Boeing 747-8F, orders for which have contracted alarmingly.
The game is not yet up for the last wholly-British airliner, and in the RJ100 freighter, BAE could have a solid route to keeping the distinctive jet flying for many more years to come.
Source: Flight International