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Regional rise

BAE Systems’ decision to test whether the market is interested in an Avro RJ freighter conversion highlights a growing niche for regional aircraft, as Helen Massy-Beresford discovers

BAE Systems’ Avro RJ could be the latest in a string of regional aircraft to find a second calling as freighter aircraft. The manufacturer said earlier this year that it was seeking customer feedback for a potential conversion, and, as Airline Cargo Management went to press at the end of October, a decision was due imminently.


“With utility capability already in its DNA we are also looking at added versatility with auxiliary fuel capacity and accessibility modifications to fly any time, any place, in any role,” says BAE’s Business Development Manager, Neil Campbell. “We have existing experience from previous freighter conversions on the ATP and 146 and the study indicated an interest in an RJ freighter or freight system related configuration, which led to separate RJ-Freighter market testing.”


Interest for a converted Avro RJ is coming from across the globe, Campbell says: “We are in discussions with operators in Europe, Africa, Australia, North America, Canada and Asean regions.” The company is targeting two main areas which it believes could benefit from what an Avro RJ freighter would offer: the regional express and niche freight markets.


In the case of regional express, Campbell explains that a volume solution driven by a need for maximum throughput requires a high containerised volume with a freight system that can deliver a fast turnaround. 


“The RJ-100 is ideal for this market, typically with payloads around seven to 11 tonnes, 120kg/m3 or 70 to 93m3 volume in up to eight containers, up to 88x108in. 


The RJ can deliver maximum throughput from the large main deck containerised volume carrying 60% more payload or volume than a turboprop, he says. 


Its jet speed means it can complete more flights with later cut-off times for freight pick-up and a range of more than 2,000nm opens up more opportunities for point-to-point delivery. The aircraft’s low loading freight door means that main deck loaders are not required.


All these benefits make for an economical option for operators as well as an ideal network development tool, filling a gap between turboprops and larger narrowbodies, Campbell adds.


For the other potential application, niche freight operations, Campbell explains that the aircraft would offer a high payload density solution typically using palletised/netted freight solutions up to 14 tonnes. “The RJ-85 and RJ-100 are ideal for this market,” Campbell says. “In this market, the RJ delivers high payload and floor loading capability with a large, offset freight door for outsized payloads. The aircraft utility and versatility attributes come into their own in this market with remote airfield accessibility including STOL and unpaved runway accessibility. Extended range solutions from auxiliary fuel capacity up to 2000nm are also available.” 


If the plans get the go-ahead, the RJ Freighter would complement BAE’s existing 146QT, Campbell says, an aircraft that is ‘still going strong after 20 years’. It would also offer a higher payload capability, higher and redistributed floor loading, auxiliary fuel capacity for longer range, CATIII / RSVM navigation and landing capabilities, higher altitude of 35,000ft versus 31,000ft and Chapter 4 noise compliance approval if required – all important attributes for a freighter aircraft.


Although BAE has not yet made a final decision on whether to go ahead or not, Campbell reports a good level of engagement with existing operators and is hoping for the same with potential new operators in the coming months. A decision will be made soon after, once market testing is complete.


“Listening to existing and new operators is an important part of market testing to understand operator and end customer needs. We are now working with them to develop further versatility such as higher payload, reducing OWE weight, increased floor loading, auxiliary fuel capacity and accessibility to remote unpaved and narrow runways.” >>

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