Tanker conversion gives new life to the BAe 146

  • David Harris
  • September 12, 2013
  • Archive

We often write about passenger-to-freighter conversions on cargofacts.net, but freighters and combis aren’t the only potential new lives for older passenger aircraft. Many governments and some companies need search-and-rescue aircraft, refueling tankers, and firefighting tankers, and most of these are converted from pax models. Today we look at the latest on the firefighting conversion scene


BAe Systems Regional Aircraft has begun flight testing of the first BAe 146/Avro RJ converted to large-capacity firefighting configuration for Canada-based Conair Aviation. As can be seen in the photo at right, the converted quadjet has an oddly pregnant look, with an external tank beneath its fuselage, capable of holding 3,000 gallons (11,350 liters) of water or retardant. The tanker is scheduled for eventual delivery to Canada-based Conair Aviation, and BAe says four operators (Air Spray Aviation Services, Minden Air, and Tronos, in addition to Conair) have placed orders for a total of 12 firefighting tankers.


The BAe 146-200/Avro RJ85 has been out of production for over a decade now, and has largely fallen out of favor as a passenger jet (about eighty are still in service out of a total of 188 built). However, BAe Systems Regional Aircraft has developed a firefighting tanker conversion program, as has Canadian company Tronos. BAe reports that the following four carriers that have ordered BAe 146/Avro RJ85 conversions:


  • Tronos Plc/Neptune Aviation Services: Tronos Plc, a UK-based  BAe 146 aircraft lessor with a MRO facility in Prince Edward Island, Canada, has developed a BAe 146 Airtanker and the first two have been delivered to Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Montana, with a further four under conversion in Canada. (Apart from the BAe 146 Airtankers Neptune operates a fleet of eight Neptunes in this role.)


  • Minden Air of Minden, Nevada recently completed the conversion of its first BAe 146 Fireliner, which is now undergoing extensive flight testing. A second aircraft is under conversion and eventually these aircraft will replace the aging Neptunes Minden currently operates.



  • Conair Group Inc.of Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, selected the Avro RJ85 for its conversion programme and a number of aircraft have been delivered so far from regional aircraft lessor, Falko Regional Aircraft. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580 Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6 and Lockheed Electra Airtankers.


  • Air Spray Aviation Services of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada which has been flying as an Airtanker operator for over 45 years and currently has a fleet of Lockheed Electra turboprops. It has established a US base at Chico, California and has acquired BAe 146-200 for conversion to the fire-fighting role


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