British Aerospace has signalled its final exit from turboprop regional-aircraft production, with the announcement that it is to close the Jetstream 41 assembly line at Prestwick, Scotland. The move is being backed by a renewed drive to find replacement aerostructures work for the site.

Production of the J41, and the future of the factory, has been under review for more than a year as orders in the 30-seat-turboprop market dwindled. Production has fallen steadily from a high of 38 aircraft a year in 1995, to a plan for only ten aircraft in 1997.

The backlog fell to almost zero at the end of 1996, before Atlantic Coast Airlines (ACA) placed a "top-up" order for 12 aircraft. Eight of these are still on the books, although ACA says that it is in talks with BAe and still has "-the flexibilty to take the aircraft or not".

The J41 closure marks BAe's final disentanglement from the loss-making turboprop business over the past four years. Production of the 19-seat J31 effectively ceased in 1993 and the 64-seat ATP/J61 line was abandoned two years later after BAe's agreement to join ATR partners Aerospatiale and Alenia within the Aero International (Regional) consortium. The move leaves the AI(R) Avro RJ regional jet as the only airliner still assembled in the UK.

With profits coming in from Airbus work and the Avro RJ regional-jet business due to return to break-even this year, the J41 remained the last major cause of losses in BAe's Commercial Aerospace business, which lost another £78 million ($117 million) in 1996. BAe says that the J41 alone cost it around £40 million in operating losses in 1996. That is equivalent to a loss of some £1 million for each of the 20 J41s delivered that year, at a list price of £4 million.

BAe says that it will put aside £250 million to close the line, which is expected to result in the loss of 380 jobs at Prestwick out of 600 employed on Jetstream production work. About 150-200 staff will be retained to carry on technical support for Jetstream aircraft.

Another 1,000 jobs at Prestwick will be retained for aerostructures work, which BAe pledges to expand at the site.

Wing assembly for the Avro RJ family was pulled back from the USA and placed at Prestwick in 1995 after announcement of the ATP line's closure.Work on the Nimrod 2000, which requires a new inner wing box section, is also earmarked for the plant, although that is unlikely to start in earnest for another 18 months.

Other options include parts for the Eurofighter 2000 and possibly moving Raytheon Hawker business-jet subassembly work from Chester - although this would still require delicate talks with Raytheon and the Chester unions.

Source: Flight International