Revitalizing the Avro: Why the BAe 146 is Sticking Around

A Brussels Avro RJ100; this fleet was retired in October 2017 (Photo: Brussels Airlines)

While the increasing need for larger and newer regional jets is upon us, one would expect to see the older models cast aside for the shiny new toy your local airline got. However, despite the BAe 146 seeing its numbers drop from 387 aircraft built to just 123 in operation, the aircraft has made sure it will continue to be seen in the skies for some time to come.

The aircraft, which has made a name for itself flying regional flights for legendary airlines such as Pacific Southwest Airlines, AirUK, Swiss, and Brussels Airlines has seen massive reductions in service with the arrival of the Embraer ERJ-170 and Bombardier CS100.

With that being said, there are still some airlines that make use of the old aircraft for various reasons. Although there has been a recent drop in active BAe airframes due to the retirements of the aircraft in fleets like Swiss and Brussels, the BAe 146 (also named the Avro RJ) is still seen in double digits in various fleets.

The largest operator of the BAe aircraft is Iranian based Mahan Air, who operates the aircraft as their lone regional jet operating mostly within the Iranian border. The airline operates five Avro RJ85s and 12 Avro RJ100s all seating 100 passengers. They are not alone though as Iranian carrier Qeshm Air also operates five BAe 146s on similar routes.

Following Mahan Air in the number of BAe aircraft is Irish carrier CityJet. The airline has utilized the smaller aircraft to reach smaller airports, specifically London City Airport. The airline operates 16 95-seat Avro RJ85s across their 18 destinations. The aircraft’s time with CityJet is fading though, with the newer Sukhoi Superjet due to replace the fleet by 2020.

A CityJet Avro aircraft in Amsterdam (Photo: Ian McMurtry)

In South Africa, the BAe 146 is seeing similar use and going to meet a similar fate to the CityJet aircraft. South African’s regional arm AirLink currently operates a fleet of 12 83-seat Avro RJ85s, making it their second most used regional jet behind the Embraer ERJ-135. The airline has already made plans to phase out the AirLink RJ85s, with the Embraer ERJ-170 being the replacement aircraft.

The last carrier to operate more than ten of the BAe 146 is Swedish carrier BRA Braathens Regional Airlines. The Scandinavian carrier currently takes advantage of their fleet of two RJ85s and 10 RJ100s to operate domestically within the Swedish border. However, much like the fleets operated by AirLink and CityJet, the Avro aircraft are due to be expunged from the fleet by 2020 when the company takes hold of the Bombardier CS100.

The remaining 61 BAe 146s are dispersed among various carriers around the world, with some of the larger aircraft holders being Star Peru with nine airframes, Bulgaria’s Hemus Air with six aircraft, Albanian Airlines with four aircraft, and Indonesia’s Aviastar with three currently and two more awaiting delivery.

Some of these four-engine jets have also been given a second chance at life. For example, ASL Airlines Spain operates a fleet of eight cargo fitted BAe aircraft that operate regional cargo flights around the Iberian peninsula.

Besides cargo, the aircraft is also seeing more use in North America since most U.S.-based BAes were retired in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In Canada, the aircraft has joined various charter fleets such as North Cariboo Air and Summit Air with their goal being to become charter aircraft for the northern Canadian territories. The aircraft is also being used for charter airlines in Europe and Africa.

The last use that the Avro has become common for is aerial firefighting. North American companies Air Spray, Neptune Aviation, and Aeroflite have all taken hold of a combined 15 converted BAe aircraft that currently flight fires when called upon. The conversion requires that the fuselage be expanded to allow for a wider tank but the high wing configuration allows for a smoother deployment without engine interference, something other model aircraft are currently struggling with.

While the loss of the scheduled commercial use of the BAe 146 is one that may go unnoticed by some, the reuse of the aircraft for charter, cargo, and aerial firefighting purposes breathes new life into the 36-year old design. And because of this, although on its last commercial legs, the BAe 146 is still going to hang around for years to come.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry