Benin close to major deal

A bidding war has emerged to build a US$25-30 million aircraft assembly, either in the Middle East or Africa.

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By  Mark Foxwell Published  August 20, 2006

A bidding war has emerged to build a US$25-30 million aircraft assembly, either in the Middle East or Africa. Benin Airlines SA, based in West Africa, said it is currently in negotiations with several potential investors in Jordan, Egypt and the UAE. The facility will allow the airline to produce US made Utilicraft Aerospace FF-1080-300 freighters, which according to engineering data from Ultilicraft, are up to 50% more cost efficient than other cargo aircraft. Luke Butler, executive director for Benin Airlines SA, remained tight-lipped about disclosing the investors, but said a decision would be made this month. “We are making significant progress with investors within the Middle East region. At this present time we don’t know whether the facility will be based in the Middle East or Africa. We have had strong offers for both, its just a question of evaluating the best option,” he said. The company aims to have the facility up and running by the beginning of 2008, with 200 freighters produced over the next five-six year period. The aircraft will first be built and certified in New Mexico before being dissembled and flown across to the final assembly plant. The planes will then be re-assembled and have any customisation performed, before they receive their final certification. The Utilicraft, designed to carry ten tonnes of freight at 2000km, will be competing against Russian-made freighters and converted passenger aircraft, such as Boeing’s 727 and Airbus’s A310. However, as a purpose-built freighter, Butler claims the Utilicraft is lighter and more fuel-efficient than its rivals. “This has come through the use of up-to-date avionics and Pratt & Whitney engines, and weight savings derived from its freight-specific design. For instance, unlike converted passenger planes, only the cockpit of the Utilicraft is pressurised, which reduces weight and hence costs,” said Butler. The company said the aircraft is able to interline smoothly with 747 or MD-11 freighters, as it can carry ten LD3 containers or wide-body main deck pallets, providing no need to repack cargo before it is loaded onto a larger aircraft. In January, Benin Airlines ordered 200 of the freighter aircraft in a deal worth $2.7 billion. Butler said the planes would be split equally with 100 aircraft serving Africa and 100 serving the Middle East.

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