UK MOD goes for sustainability in BAe 146 replacement

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) will acquire two Dassault 900LX business jets to replace the outgoing, and long-serving, BAe 146 fleet in the Command Support Air Transport (CSAT) role, with sustainability and green targets apparently front and centre of its reasoning to opt for the type.

According to an MOD release on February 8, the new business jets, bought at a cost of £80m, will be “more sustainable” than the older BAe 146 aircraft thanks to their smaller engines, leading to a reduction in fuel burn and emissions.

Dassault 900LX
The Dassault 900LX appears to offer a significant increase in range compared to the older BAe 146 type being replaced. Katsuhiko Tokunaga/DACT

Information from Dassault reveals that the 900LX has a maximum range (with two crew and six passengers) of 4,750 nm/8,800 km, compared to the BAe 146’s “typical” 1,400nm/2,593km, as stated by the Royal Air Force (RAF). As reported by Key.Aero last year, the business jets would be expected to remain in RAF service for at least 15 years.

It is likely that the two CC2 VIP configured BAe 146s are the aircraft effectively being replaced by the Dassault 900LX, with the two C3 tactical transporters axed, leaving a slight reduction in airlift capability. A recent RAND report queried where the future of the UK’s airlift lay, with much of its tactical airlift being lost in the coming years with the retirement of the C-130J fleet.

The February 8 MOD release added that the contract with Bristol-based Centreline included the purchase of two Dassault 900LX aircraft and two years of initial support, plus three options years if needed. The type was described in the competition to replace the BAe 146 as being “the standout candidate in performance, cost value and time requirements.”

The two-phase programme will see the aircraft initially operated by a mixed crew of civilian and RAF personnel. The aircraft will be upgraded with missile jamming systems and military communications to deliver full capability and crewed by RAF personnel.

RAF BAe 146 C3
The two RAF BAe 146 C3 tactical transport variants will not be replaced, with only the VIP capability being maintained. UK MOD/Crown copyright

After four decades of service, two BAe 146 aircraft are being preserved at the British Airliner Collection at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, and the South Wales Aviation Museum at St Athan in South Glamorgan. The remaining two aircraft have been bought by a civilian operator.

In July last year PricewaterhouseCooper’s stated in a report that the MOD produces over half of the UK government’s greenhouse gas emissions, while aviation accounts for two-thirds of the MOD’s fuel consumption.

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff, speaking at the 2021 Global Air Chiefs’ Conference on July 14, 2021, pointed to key diversity and emissions targets that the RAF is working to implement in the years ahead.

“I know you’re probably thinking it’s crazy to hear an air and space chief talking about this, however the imperative is clear: our politicians will increasingly demand it of us, because our public demands it of us,” Wigston told delegates.

Continuing, Wigston said: “In the UK, current government legislation requires all greenhouse gas emissions to be net-zero by 2050, but I have set the RAF the challenge of net-zero by 2040, because everything I see and hear tells me that 2050 date will come forward.