By Iris Savage
Flying Colours Corp., the Canada-based international MRO, has delivered high-quality regional jet conversions for over fifteen years. “We’ve had our ExecLiner program in place since 2007 and have converted and refurbished more than thirty Bombardier (now owned by Mitsubishi) CRJ200s and completed fifteen green airframes,” explains Eric Gillespie, Executive VP of Flying Colours. “Demand slowed down about four years ago, but in the last eighteen months, we’ve seen stronger interest than ever.”
With hundreds of regional jets now parked up, Flying Colours is working with customers to upcycle these airliners for use in the executive jet sector. “For customers looking for a cost-effective means to access business aircraft, the transformation of a regional airliner is relatively convenient compared with the current availability of pre-owned business jets. Compared with the prices commanded by a brand-new jet, it’s also incredibly cost-effective.” Gillespie states that it is possible to acquire, overhaul, customize and put one of the converted assets into operation for around US$10 million. “That’s an attractive proposition for customers seeking a customized aircraft modified to their specific mission requirements.”
With reduced commercial networks, Gillespie notes that airline owners are also willing to sell. “There are hundreds of these airframes out there, and while we don’t go out and source the airframes, we do conduct pre-buy inspections. This quickly establishes how much investment a new owner may have to make,” says Gillespie. “The CRJ 200 was built to fly around 80 000 cycles, but for example, if it’s flown less than 40 000 and has been well maintained, it still has a lot of life in it. If the fuselage is in good shape, but the engines are not, they can be swapped out. If the operating environment has been harsh, then the fuselage may require many repairs.” These factors will define realistic timeframes and budgets for the conversion.
Once in the Flying Colours hangars, a refurb can take just six to eight months to outfit in the ExecLiner configuration. The VIP layout comfortably seats up to 14 passengers in a two-zone format, with a combination of club, dining, and divan seating, impressive storage space, a galley, and an aft lavatory. The interior is comparable in size and comfort to a large cabin jet and delivers the performance characteristics of a super mid-size jet.
Requests for alternative floorplans have grown in the last eighteen months too. “We can modify the jet to meet specific budgets and missions. A recent client requested a corporate shuttle interior for twenty-nine passengers. The layout incorporated six business jet seats and a divan at the front of the cabin, with a further twenty airline-style seats behind.”
Redelivered to a US-based charter operator, the customer reflects a new source of interest for the conversion option. In addition to private and corporate owners, demand is now coming from previously untapped areas. Investment banks, charter brokers and even sports team owners have all made recent requests. “In a market where good aircraft are hard to find, and new production aircraft waiting times are long, conversions provide an excellent solution for those seeking quick access to aircraft,” states Gillespie. “Customers have also been driven to executive aircraft due to the gaps in the commercial airline network or ongoing health and safety concerns.” Flying Colours has a strong pipeline of conversions ahead and is currently working on a thirty-seater shuttle and a second VIP conversion, with another five aircraft anticipated to undergo the transformation this year.
The relatively short conversion time is possible thanks to Flying Colours’ numerous in-house capabilities. Multiple work streams are conducted in parallel; while cabinetry, upholstery, and veneering teams work on interior components, the maintenance, avionics, and design engineering teams prepare the interior for installation. The airframe moves to the purpose-built paint shop for the final stage of its metamorphosis. Flying Colours has developed and certified optional auxiliary tanks for aircraft requiring extended range, increasing the standard 2,000 NM to 3,100 NM. The ability to undertake the work at a single location speeds the process and optimizes budgets.
The numerous supplemental type certificates support efficient re-entry into service Flying Colours holds for this type. “We have delivered this type in every possible configuration: corporate shuttle, VIP, medevac, special mission, multi-purpose, and the ExecLiner format.” The aircraft is delivered back into service with a two-year warranty, and Flying Colours remains on hand for unexpected or scheduled maintenance events. Gillespie concludes, “For owners, the benefits of a regional jet conversion are multiple in terms of saving time, speeding access, and realizing a one-of-a-kind interior in an as new aircraft.”