AEI said it would fund the program development costs itself, but will work in cooperation with Bombardier, including becoming a Bombardier licensed Third Party Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) Provider. The first conversion will be done at the Commercial Jet Facility in Miami, and AEI says it expects certification in about two years.
There have been a few CRJ conversions in the past (carried out by Cascade Aerospace) but these were to bulk-load configuration, without a large cargo door. The AEI conversion will be to full freighter configuration with a large cargo door and an Ancra cargo loading system, allowing the freighter to carry pallets and containers as well as bulk-loaded material. Maximum payload of the CRJ200 SF will be 6.7 tonnes, while other specifications (provided by AEI) are as follows:
Main Deck Cargo Door will be 94” (2.39 m) wide by 77” (1.96 m) high
- Total cabin volume of 1,864 cu. ft. (52.8 cu m)
- 10,000 lb (4 536 kg) payload can be flown 1,735 nm
- 15,000 lb (6 804 kg) payload can be flown 800 nm
- Dual vent door system
- Rigid 9G barrier
- Main deck converted to Class “E” Cargo Compartment
- Cabin windows replaced with lightweight aluminum window plugs
The big question with this program, of course, is whether there is a market for a jet freighter of such small size, particularly given that it will have to compete against turboprop freighters such as the ATR 72 and ATP. The market for the bulk-load conversion previously offered was very small, but following its year-long market study, AEI says it is convinced the market for a large-door, full-freighter version is much larger than is generally believed, particularly among charter and local express operators. The company said it expects firm orders for more than 35 conversions in 2013, with a total market of about 75 conversions over the next ten years.