When it comes to new jet freighter conversion programs, most in the air freight and logistics industry focus on traditional mainline commercial jets, with narrowbodies like the 737 and A320 families as the smallest candidates, all the way up to the 747-400. There have been a few attempts in the past to convert regional jets from passenger to bulk-load freighter configuration, but these have seen limited acceptance. The development of a true large-door freighter-conversion program for a regional jet has generally been thought of as not having much chance of commercial success, because the performance advantages over a comparably-sized turboprop freighter were not seen as balancing the increased cost of acquisition, conversion, and operation.
But over the past two years Canada-based Bombardier, the manufacturer of the CRJ family of regional jets, has worked with US-based conversion house Aeronautical Engineers Inc (AEI) on the idea of a large-door conversion program for the CRJ200, and after an analysis of the potential market, AEI officially launched the program in February of this year. This week, nine months after the launch, AEI said that it had completed the Preliminary Design Review for the program, establishing the capability and functionality of the proposed freighter. AEI says it expects the next step — Critical Design Review — to be completed in March 2014, with modification of the conformity aircraft scheduled to begin in June 2014 at the Commercial Jet facility in Miami.
While no customers have been named, AEI confirmed that it now has twenty-four firm orders for CRJ200 P-to-F conversions, from five customers. The customer base is geographically diverse, with one each from Canada, Europe, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and the US.
Below is a schematic diagram of the AEI CRJ200 SF, followed by detailed specifications.
The specifications, as provided by AEI, are as follows:
- Eight 61.5” x 88” Pallet Positions
- Up to 14,840 LB (6,731 KG) Main Deck Payload (Depending on Model & Aircraft Weight Limits)
- 94” x 77” Main Deck Cargo Door
- Fuselage structurally reinforced around cargo door
- Dual Vent Door System
- Centerline Seat track added
- Ancra International Cargo Loading System
- 9G rigid cargo / smoke barrier with sliding door
- Main deck converted to Class “E” Cargo Compartment
- Cabin windows replaced with lightweight aluminum window plugs
- High reliability, 28VDC, independent hydraulic system
- Up to 2 Supernumerary Seats