Monday, April 1, 2013

CQ Plane Spotting Historic Spot – British Aerospace (BAe) 146 / Avro RJ Aircraft at Central Queensland Airports

Qantas Airlink BAe 146-200 VH-NJU at Hamilton Island
The British Aerospace 146 (also BAe 146) is a regional airliner that was manufactured in the United Kingdom by British Aerospace, later part of BAE Systems. Production ran from 1983 until 2002.  Manufacture of an improved version known as the Avro RJ began in 1992. A further-improved version with new engines, the Avro RJX, was announced in 1997, but only two prototypes and one production aircraft were built before production ceased in 2001. With 387 aircraft produced, the BAe 146 / Avro RJ is the most successful British civil jet programme.

The BAe 146 / Avro RJ is a high-wing cantilever monoplane with a T-tail. It has four turbofan engines mounted on pylons underneath the wings, and has retractable tricycle landing gear. The aircraft has very quiet operation, and has been marketed under the name "Whisperjet". It sees wide usage at small city-based airports. In its primary role it serves as a regional jet, short-haul airliner or regional airliner.

The BAe 146 came in -100, -200 and -300 models. The equivalent Avro RJ versions are designated RJ70, RJ85, and RJ100. The freight-carrying version carries the designation "QT" (Quiet Trader), a convertible passenger-or-freight model is designated as "QC" (Quick Change). A "gravel kit" can be fitted to aircraft to enable operations from rough, unprepared airstrips.

In Australia, the BAe 146 / Arvo RJ has been / is operated by:  Ansett Airlines, Ansett Air Freight, Ansett W.A., Australian Air Express, Australian Airlink, Cobham Aviation, East-West Airlines, National Jet Systems, Norfolk Jet Express, Qantas Airlink, QantasLink, TNT, and Vincent Aviation.

The first BAe 146 to grace Australian skies was VH-JJP – a BAe 146-200A – c/n E2037. VH-JJP was initially operated by Ansett W.A. (West Australia) and predominately operated out of Perth.  Its first revenue service was Perth - Kalgoorlie - Perth as MV352/353 on 28 June 1985.

Ansett W.A. BAe 146-200A VH-JJP at Mangalore in 1986

Through the late 1980’s and into the early 1990’s Ansett W.A. operated seven BAe 146-200 aircraft – VH-JJP, VH-JJQ, VH-JJS, VH-JJT, VH-JJW, VH-JJX, and ZK-NZA (later VH-JJU).  These aircraft were transferred to the Ansett Australia mainline fleet when Ansett W. A. operations were merged with Ansett in July 1993, where they joined a pair of BAe 146-200QT freight aircraft – VH-JJY and VH-JJZ – which were flown for Ansett Air Freight (later Ansett Australia Cargo).

Ansett BAe 146-200A VH-JJP at Brisbane in 2000

Ansett Air Freight BAe 146-200QT VH-JJY at Brisbane in 1998

Re-branded Ansett Australia Cargo BAe 146-200QT VH-JJY at Brisbane in  2001

These little freighters were often noted of a night time passing through Rockhampton and Mackay Airports as they ferried cargo up and down the Queensland coast.

East West Airlines was regarded as Australia’s first “third” carrier, in an era dominated by the ‘big two’ Australian airlines – Ansett and Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) / Australian Airlines.  East-West primarily flew Fokker F-27 turboprop and F-28 jet aircraft but would eventually operate the larger BAe 146-300 and even Boeing 737-300 aircraft for passenger operations.  East-West competed vigorously with the major airlines on inter-capital routes. The Australian aviation industry was highly regulated at the time under the Two Airlines Policy, which prevented East-West from flying directly between major capital cities, so they instead offered services between major cities via regional centres, including Central Queensland. Routes included Sydney to Brisbane via Newcastle and Coolangatta, or Brisbane to Cairns via Mackay.

East West BAe 146-300 VH-EWJ (in Hamilton Island colours) at Melbourne in 1995

In mid-July 1987, East-West was eventually sold to a company set up by Ansett's owners.  East West continued to operate as a separate entity until June 1993 when its operations were fully merged into Ansett.  Most of its fleet of BAe 146-300 aircraft – VH-EWI, VH-EWJ, VH-EWL, VH-EWM, VH-EWR, and VH-EWS – were transferred to Ansett Australia who would go on to use these aircraft to fly mostly regional sectors from Brisbane to Rockhampton, Mackay, Proserpine / Whitsunday Coast, and Hamilton Island. 

Ansett BAe 146-300 VH-EWS at Brisbane in 1999

In the early 1990’s Australian Airlines (now Qantas Airways) and National Jet Systems (now Cobham Aviation) formed regional subsidiary airlines for operations in regional Western Australia and on East coast.  Airlink (operated by National Jet for Australian Airlines) and Southern Australia Airlines (operated by Australian Airlines) were both were operators of the BAe 146.  National Jet commenced BAe 146 operation for Australian Airlink on 2 August 1991 with BAe 146-100 VH-NJC operating the first Australian Airlink revenue service from Brisbane to Mackay as TN218.

Australian Airlink BAe 146-100 VH-NJR at Proserpine /  Whitsunday Coast in 1992

Over the subsequent years, Airlink branded BAe 146 aircraft were also seen at all major Central Queensland coastal airport – Rockhampton, Mackay, Proserpine / Whitsunday Coast, and Hamilton Island.

Up until the early 2000’s some 21 BAe 146 aircraft – 100, 200, and 300 types – were operated by National Jet for Australian and later Qantas Airlink.  Two of these aircraft – BAe 146-200s VH-YAE and VH-YAF were also transferred to the Southern Australia fleet for operations throughout New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania.  Also during this time, National Jet operated BAe 146 aircraft on lease to Norfolk Jet Express (VH-NJD and VH-NJY) – for services between the Australian East Coast and Norfolk Island - and Air Niugini (VH-NJW).

Qantas Airlink BAe 146-200 VH-NJG at Brisbane in 1997

Qantas Southern Australia Airlines BAe 146-200 VH-YAE at Sydney in 2000

Norfolk Jet Express BAe 146-100 VH-NJD at Brisbane in 1997

Air Niugini BAe 146-100 VH-NJW at Brisbane

In 2001, Southern Australia Airlines, Airlink, as well as Sunstate Airlines, Eastern Australia Airlines and Impulse Airlines were all rebranded as QantasLink, though each entity retained a certain amount of independence.

QantasLink BAe 146-200 VH-NJQ at Rockhampton in 2002

QantasLink BAe 146-200 VH-NJJ at Brisbane in 2003

All the QantasLink BAe 146 aircraft were subsequently transferred to National Jet Systems, but continued to operate under the QantasLink banner.  Slowly, as National Jet acquired larger Boeing B717-200 aircraft for operations for QantasLink, by the mid 2000’s the BAe 146 aircraft were transferred to National Jet’s Western Australia charter operations.

Cobham BAe 146-300 VH-NJP at Perth in 2011

In March 2009, National Jet Systems was renamed to Cobham Aviation and these hard working BAe 146 / Avro RJ aircraft still fly throughout Western Australia and South Australia on Cobham’s extensive FIFO charter network.

Cobham BAe 146-100 VH-NJC at Perth in 2011

Cobham BAe 146-300 VH-NJQ at Perth in 2011

National Jet Systems / Cobham Aviation also operates four dedicated BAe freight aircraft for Australian Air Express – Bae 146-100QT VH-NJV and BAe 146-300QT’s VH-NJF, VH-NJM and VH-NJZ.

Australian Air Express BAe 146-300QT VH-NJM at Brisbane in  2000

Australian Air Express BAe 146-100QT VH-NJV at Brisbane in 2009

Cobham BAe 146-300QT VH-NJZ at Adelaide in 2012

There has been talk in that Australian Air Express will soon utilise a BAe 146 freighter on its nightly cargo run from Mackay - Rockhampton - Brisbane however this is yet to eventuate.

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