03 Feb 22. Due for withdrawal on the 31st March this year when maintenance support contracts presumably come to an end, the MOD announced earlier this week that it had now disposed of the two most recently acquired BAe 146 CCMk3 aircraft to an Australian based commercial aircraft operator call Pioneer.
The true ‘Whispering Jet’ without which London City Airport might never have been, although many of these fine aircraft are now well over 30 years old, they easily find new homes – many in Australia and other countries being converted to cargo or firefighting roles.
Before going on I should add that, as had previously been announced, the two oldest of the RAF BAe 146 Mk2 aircraft are set to be preserved – one being retired to the superb Air Museum at the former RAF Duxford and the other going to the South Wales Aviation Museum at the former RAF St Athan. As the last ever British commercial aircraft design, one that with the final Avro RJ production aircraft built being delivered in 2003 ending a 20-year production run of 146/Avro RJ aircraft, from a heritage standpoint it is pleasing that two of the 387 aircraft built are to be preserved.
Based at RAF Northolt in London, operated by 32 (The Royal) Squadron, since first entering service with the Royal Air Force in the VIP role back in 1983, the UK designed and built BAe146 aircraft has been primarily tasked in the Command Support Air Transport (CSAT) role.
The two older aircraft are VIP-configured whilst the so-called Quick-Change C.Mk.3 aircraft could be rapidly reconfigured when required between passenger, cargo and medical – the latter being highlighted only eighteen months ago when Wing Commander Delia Chadwick, then OC of 32 (The Royal ) Squadron pointed out the various fixed wing aero med capability that the RAF has (Atlas -A400M, C-130J, C17 Globemaster and Voyager) all of which are able to transport patients and medical personnel but that:
“The advantage of the BAe146 is that it [along with the C-130J] can land at airports where Voyager can’t due to its smaller size and footprint. It suits our purposes brilliantly for short hops which can be completed at less cost and with less impact on the environment.”
The RAF fleet of four BAe146 aircraft are set to be replaced by two civil business jets which will, I understand, be owned rather than leased by the MOD.
As yet, no final decision or announcement in relation to aircraft purchase choice has been made and my current understanding is also that, following final withdrawal of the two remaining BAe 146’s next month, Voyager aircraft based at RAF Northolt will support the collective Air Transporting task including VIP and Command Support Air Transport tasking.
Put out for competition last year my understanding is that he winning bid under Phase one of the GBP80 million “Command Support Air Transport Recapitalisation” (CSAT RECAP) contract is expected to be announced later this year. Under phase one, the MOD will own the executive jets and these will be leased back to the chosen operator, which will provide servicing, support, and aircrew. Under the first phase a cadre of RAF aircrew would be trained to operate the jets and the aircraft would be operated on the Civil Aircraft Register. Under a second subsequent phase of the CSAT RECAP project due to commence in 2024, the aircraft would then undergo “military modifications” in order for the Royal Air Force to take over their operation.
Although it is perfectly possible that his ‘street’ may be misinformed, I note a tweet yesterday from Gareth Jenkins saying “So, the word on the street I’m getting is that the UK has selected the Dassault Falcon 2000LXS as the successor to the BAe 146, with a contract to be announced shortly”. Nothing wrong with the Dassault Falcon 2000LXS or indeed, maybe even second hand Falcon 900’s which someone suggested as a possible choice and which is after all, an aircraft family that has been around for many years although some may consider it strange that during a period when relations with the French are, in the post Brexit and AUKUS arena somewhat strained to say the least, that we should choose to acquire two French aircraft. However, given that the French built jet does contain some UK built parts I believe, perhaps this is an argument that should not be allowed to play.
That we in Britain, a nation that had a long and very successful history of business type jet design and manufacture no longer make any kind of business or commercial aircraft is not the fault of the French. While one notes that the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy (DSIS) emphasised the need to support UK industry and national prosperity, when no UK built alternative exists the MOD has little choice but to buy off the self from elsewhere.
Another equally viable suggestion is that the MOD might acquire two Bombardier Global 5000 or 5500 series aircraft and that is powered by Rolls-Royce Pearl engines – that would at the very least calm some of the likely irritation caused if the MOD chose to acquire a French built jet.
Clearly, acquiring and operating only two jet and that will effectively be replacing four larger 146 aircraft each powered by four engines will have considerable cost saving potential for a penny-pinching MOD. But once again we are reducing another element of important capacity requirement with a false belief that if required, larger aircraft can also be brought in to do the same job.
I fully understand the internal air force creed that says the fewer aircraft types in any force the better but do not understand why we are so intent of throwing out important elements of much needed capability such as the C-130J fleet where there is in my opinion, no other aircraft within the RAF fixed wing fleet offers anywhere near the versatility of operation.
Even accepting that as Queens Flight fixed wing aircraft are only used to fly the Monarch if required, neither do I understand how just two aircraft undertaking such a mix of hugely important roles can today be seen as being sufficient to replace four BAe146’s.
CHW (London – 3rd February 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785