While the likes of Embraer and Fairchild Dornier have taken the big budget, clean sheet approach to developing their new 70 to 100 regional jets, BAE Systems and its partners (principally Honeywell) have spent no more than $100 million on bringing the Avro RJ family into the 21st century. On paper at least, their low-budget rejuvenation effort for what is effectively the 30-year-old BAe 146 airliner, dubbed the RJX, seems to have been quite effective.


"The Honeywell AS977 provides a 10-15% fuel consumption improvement over the earlier [Honeywell] LF507. That, combined with an empty weight reduction, equates to a 17% improvement in range," says BAE Systems Regional Aircraft vice president marketing Nick Godwin. The RJX's take-off weight is 2t lower for a given mission compared to the current RJ, and it has a 15% lower noise footprint, adds Godwin.

The RJX family is offered in three sizes: the 70-seat RJX-70, the 85-seat RJX-85 and the 100-seat RJX-100. "We offer three models, but expect the 100-seater to be the prime seller," says Godwin.

As well as providing the range, performance and noise improvements, the AS977-powered Avro is more competitive on cost compared to its predecessors. While even BAE would admit privately that the 146 and Avro RJ is hardly the strongest operating cost yardstick, it is nevertheless impressive that the new RJX is, on a power by the hour cost basis, 30% cheaper to operate than the former and 20% better than the latter.

So who will buy this third re-embodiment of the ubiquitous BAe 146? Godwin says that the prime target markets are existing 146/RJ operators in Europe, Australasia and North America. Although so far the only RJX customers - British European and Druk Air - are within the 146 operator group, Godwin expects that over 50% of the 200 sales target for the RJX over the next 10 years will come from new operators.

Although the 200 sales forecast sounds impressive, it equates to just 20 aircraft a year through to 2010, and BAE will only entertain "cash" or low financial recourse deals. Sales should be proportionally greater during the first five years, Godwin adds.

The first RJX, a - 85, entered flight-test in April and should be followed by the -100 prototype next month. The first customer aircraft, for launch carrier British European, will fly in late September and deliveries are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2002. By then Godwin and his colleagues will be hoping that the order book has grown substantially beyond the current 14 firm sales.

Source: Flight International