Large-door freighter conversion program for the CRJ100 and CRJ200 launched by AEI

After a full year of studying the potential market, Miami-based Aeronautical Engineers Inc today launched a passenger-to-freighter conversion program for Bombardier’s CRJ100 and CRJ200 regional jets.

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:

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.

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