As the Paris show opens, British Aerospace Regional Aircraft is rapidly closing on definition of its updated Avro RJ family of 70-, 85- and 100-seat airliners.
A roadshow has visited the company's 50 top suppliers, most of whom are already involved in existing RJ models, to brief them on the new RJX and seek risk-sharing involvement in the project.
BAe received approval in February to conditionally offer the new aircraft, subject to business conditions, project definition and the commitment of more risk-sharing participants.
"By Paris, we should have a clear definition of the RJX specification, for delivery in the second quarter of 2001," says Nick Godwin, vice-president, marketing with British Aerospace Regional Aircraft. A launch decision is due this autumn.
The RJX's main design change from earlier models is the 7,000lb thrust (33.8kN) AS977-A1 derivative of AlliedSignals's new AS900 turbofan, which will replace the LF507.
The new powerplant is said to offer 5% more climb thrust, together with a 17% increase in range, 15% better fuel consumption and 20% overall cut in maintenance costs.
To facilitate development, BAe Regional Aircraft has obtained an RJ engine pylon from a written-off Turkish machine for an engineering mock-up.
Although the main aim is to sell new aircraft, it will be possible to retrofit the new engine to existing RJs, says Godwin,. "We think it will be capable of being incorporated at a C-check, but we're in the process of estimating the down-time required.
The estimated saving will be $350,000 to $450,000 in fuel and other costs, with a payback period of five to seven years."
Godwin says that industry forecasts for the 70- to100-seat market is 120 aircraft per year worldwide and BAe Regional Aircraft plans an annual build rate of 18 RJXs.
Main markets for the RJX will be Europe and Australasia, with fewer in North America, where the market is affected by scope clauses.
Around 50% of RJX orders will be from existing BAe 146 and RJ users, believes Godwin, who says the 70- to 100-seat marketplace is not as crowded as a casual observer might believe.
At the top end of that range, he says, both the Boeing 717-200 and Airbus A318 are substantially heavier than the RJX; that, combined with their longer range, makes them appeal to national carriers, rather than the regionals which have traditionally bought the BAe 146 and RJ. "We believe that if you compare the 717 and 318 with the RJX, the savings per aircraft will be between $350,000 and $850,000 in a year. They are really two different markets."
Of other potential rivals, he believes that Fairchild "will learn the hard way" the problems in trying to deliver the 70-seat 728 in two and a half years, given the current shortage of skilled engineering staff in Europe.
"We believe they will deliver an aircraft, but late," says Godwin.
Source: Flight Daily News