The BAe 146/Avro RJ family of regional jetliners is growing in popularity in Africa with the number of aircraft acquired/delivered to African operators more than trebling from six to over 20 in the past year.
The latest operators to take delivery of the aircraft are Air Congo Limited of Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Air Libya and Air Tourist of Gabon.
Speaking at the Aviation Outlook Africa Conference in Cape Town, Nigel Benson, Director Sales and Leasing for BAE Systems Asset Management pointed out that African airlines are not immune to the serious financial and trading environment in the global air transport industry with passenger traffic down eight percent in September and net losses for African airlines predicted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to total $1 billion in 2008 and 2009.
He said “the global credit crunch is making finance for new aircraft deliveries harder to access and more expensive and African airlines have a challenge to find $8 billion over the next three years to finance some 220 new aircraft that represents the backlog that is on order.
“However, the recent dramatic expansion of the BAE Systems regional jet fleet into Africa shows that African airlines are exploiting the availability of quality pre-owned aircraft to meet their current and future needs. Used aircraft can enjoy an economic advantage over new aircraft by virtue of their lower capital cost and this is particularly true in markets with lower than average utilisations as is often found in Africa.”
Air Libya has acquired two BAe 146-300s, the first of which has been delivered and is in use on domestic routes and oil service charters in the country. Air Congo recently acquired three BAe 146-200s that will join five other BAe 146-200s that have also been acquired by the airline. Operations have recently started from Pointe Noire, alongside turboprop aircraft on scheduled regional services. Air Tourist Gabon has taken delivery of one BAe 146-200
In southern Africa, SA Airlink is operating four BAe 146-200s and three Avro RJ85s on an intensive domestic and regional international schedule in South Africa. Another RJ85 based in South Africa is owned by Istithmar/Dubai World Aviation. In addition, Air Botswana has one BAe 146-100.
Benson added: “We are very active in the African market and there is no doubt that African airlines are beginning to appreciate the low capital cost of the BAe 146/Avro RJ family which, combined with its exceptional performance and ease of maintenance, makes it very attractive proposition at present. In addition to our own activities, we are also aware of other parties placing this aircraft with operators on the Continent.”
BAE Systems turboprop aircraft are also well represented on the Continent with nearly 25 Jetstream family aircraft in service with eight operators, the biggest being SA Airlink with 14 Jetstream 41s and 16 HS 748 aircraft currently operated by eleven different customers.
By mid 2009, BAE Systems expects to see 65 aircraft in service in Africa with twenty different operators.