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March 2010 - Posts

Granted, I always knew about the long-running Rekkof ("Fokker" backwards) scheme to have production of the Fokker 70 and 100 restarted, but I never really thought much of its chances and so this story still comes as a surprise to me. Is there really a strong case for a commercial reintroduction of the Fokker airliner (granted as an enhanced variant)? Obviously some people think so, and I wouldn't count them out simply because they are trying to update an older airframe (Boeing 737 anyone?). But I think Rekkof (or is it NG Aircraft?) have a big uphill battle to proove that they have an attractive product.

  © NG Aircraft

If this project does come to fruition, what should we expect of this aircraft? The Rekkof website is, not unexpectedly, a bit skimpy on specifics and numbers; but the XF70 and XF100, as they will be known, will benefit in a number of ways over the previous Fokker 70 and 100. New winglets will reduce fuel burn by 2%. Range will increase substantially to 2300nm. The aircraft will have modern, new interiors. New manufacturing methods will lead to a 20% airframe cost reduction. And perhaps most critically, the aircraft will have new, as yet unspecified, engines.

There is no mention that I can see of using composite materials or a new wing (beyond the winglets) for the XF70/100. I suspect that the use of composites will have to be limited in order to maximize the utilization of the existing airframe design and tooling. So I won't expect much in the way of weight savings from the airframe itself. However, I believe the Fokker was a reasonably light airframe to begin with. According to some numbers on wikipedia, (handy but dubious, I know) the empty weight of the in-service F100 is four tons lighter than that of the comparably sized and much newer Embraer E190, though coming from wikipedia I have no idea of I am really comparing apples to apples with the numbers on that. So weight may not be a big issue, yet. What about the engines? The "new" engines on the XF100 will have a thrust rating of almost 15,500 lbs, and 14,000 lbs on the XF70. That certainly falls into the range of the existing GE CF34 which powers the Embraer E-Jets and Bombardier CRJs, but more interestingly, that thrust rating also falls nicely into the lower end of the Pratt & Whitney PW1000 GTF range. That would give the XF70/100 the efficiency improvements it would need to compete in the marketplace.

But how will the market take to a revamped Fokker? The 100-seat market was already set to become a crowded party even without the new Fokkers. Existing products such as the CRJ and E-Jets, and numerous models in the pipeline like the Mitsubishi MRJ, Sukkhoi Superjet, the smaller-end of the Bombardier CSeries, and anything new Embraer spits out will all take some of the pie. Will there be any slices left for Fokker? The good news is that it should be a big pie at least, so even a small slice could translate into a few hundred orders. The old Fokker 70/100 line sold 330 planes. Anything like this would have to be considered a success given where this program has come from. Luckily, a lot of the development costs normally associated with new aircraft programs won't be there. That could allow Rekkof to go cheaper on the XF70/100 selling price than some of the competition might be willing to, since less money has to be earned back from sales to cover the engineering and tooling costs. In these austere times, that could be a big plus to many airlines looking for low-cost fleet renewal. Also, the new program has some advantage over the MRJ and Superjet thanks to the maintained customer base on the old Fokker planes (through Stork) - however this would be an even bigger advantage to Embraer and Bombardier. But returning Fokker customers would enjoy the benefits at least of fleet comonality and, in theory, easy fleet upgrades to the next generation of Fokker aircraft.

And long term, what is the Rekkof plan? The XF70/100 will still fundamentally be an old airframe. Can they expect any meaningful sales past 2025 or so? Is this just a stepping stone onto composite airframe design? By this time, CSeries will be in full swing, Embraer will probably have a new composite airframe, and Boeing and Airbus should be introducing their own composite narrowbody airliners. All of a sudden that old Fokker airframe will start to look heavy after all. If this goes anywhere, I hope we have at least the [re]making of a long-term airframer and not a one-off ten year jobs program. But to even get anything more than token sales for the propose XF70/100, Rekkof have to make sure they do a good job of updating the old Fokkers just how the market will want it. We know it can be done, but in the early days of a program, it can be a fine line between the makings of a next-generation sales success, and a warmed-over sales folly.

Posted by Orion | with no comments
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