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Used commercial aircraft ideal for military transport: BAE’s Taylor

Dec. 3, 2013, Seville, Spain - BAE Systems today urged military planners in air forces and governments that need to acquire transport aircraft to consider buying used commercial aircraft for conversion to fulfil the roles needed.


December 3, 2013
By Carey Fredericks

Speaking at the Military Airlift Rapid Reaction and Tanker Operations Conference in Seville today, Mark Taylor, business director engineering at BAE Systems Regional Aircraft, stated that to cover many of the roles required of military transport aircraft it was unnecessary to buy expensive new-build military aircraft when a converted pre-owned commercial aircraft will do the job at a fraction of the cost and especially at a time when defence budgets are being cut.
 
Citing the example of the U.K.’s Royal Air Force that has this year taken delivery of two 20-year-old pre-owned BAe 146 C Mk3 passenger/freight aircraft for use in Afghanistan that were converted by an industrial team led by BAE Systems Regional Aircraft Taylor said:

“With defence budgets under severe pressure, the RAF and the U.K. Ministry of Defence have taken a bold step in recognising that for the tasks required the vast majority of the missions can be accomplished using this cheaper pre-owned alternative. The RAF themselves have said that the vast amount of tasking they are doing is moving around 30-40 soldiers and their kit, for which the BAe 146 C Mk3 is absolutely ideal.”
 
Depending on the role required the mission fit might vary from some communications and avionics upgrades, to full theatre-fit installations of cockpit armour, fuel tank inerting, missile countermeasures and range extensions, to extensive missions installations such as radars and electronic counter measure suites.
 
“The point is”, said Taylor, “that air forces will be paying for this equipment whether it is on a new or used airframe, so why spend money on a new airframe when a used aircraft will do the job?
 
“ Of course, if you need to ramp-load a vehicle, carry out air dropping, transport outsize loads or you really absolutely have to have a very short-field performance, then a military tactical airlifter will have to be used. But if the requirement is to transport freight – especially routine freight – passengers or a mixture of both then consider a used commercial aircraft and save your operating costs budget and/or also preserve the fatigue life on your existing expensive tactical assets.”
 
He added: “How many missions really use the full performance of the current platforms?  Ten per cent? Perhaps even less!”
 
Taylor stated that the use of commercial aircraft converted for military roles did not mean there would be any increased risk to either crew or passengers.  Many civil aircraft already have modifications in place for fuel tank inerting, flight deck armour and defensive aids including missile protection – exactly the same kit as currently used on strategic and tactical airlifters.
 
In the case of the BAe 146 the aircraft also has the capability to use unpaved runways, fly steep approaches, operate in hot and high conditions, has high altitude modifications and can operate remotely with integral airstairs, battery engine starts and three-engine ferry.
 
Taylor pointed out that the acquisition cost of a typical 100-seat or 10,000 kg used commercial aircraft was between US$1 to 6 million depending on age and condition and this compared to some $35 million for a typical new-build turboprop tactical airlifter. The total conversion cost of the used aircraft for non-theatre use will give an air force five aircraft for the price of one new platform; for full theatre use the ratio is over two aircraft to one.
 
Concluding, Taylor stated that buying new build aircraft usually involves protracted timescales usually over several years due to low build rates and limited slots on some production lines, whereas with used aircraft, procurement times from decision to acquisition can be measured in weeks.
 
Additionally, Original Equipment Manufacturers are willing to manage fleet configuration changes and there are increasing opportunities for aerospace businesses in purchasing countries to become involved through, for example, MRO and conversions.
 
Importantly, commercial aircraft have longer fatigue lives than military equivalents (typically more than 60,000 hours) and so with half life remaining and low military ultilizations will be able to serve for 30 more years with most air forces.