Launch of the AI(R)Jet 70-seat regional jet will not now happen for at least several months, despite expectations of a Le Bourget announcement.

Aero International (Regional) (AI(R)) says more research is needed on the programme's risk and projected return on investment before such a launch can be contemplated.

AI(R) chief executive officer Patrick Gavin says the company has not convinced its executive board of these points.



In addition, Gavin told a press conference yesterday, the possibility exists of consolidation with another manufacturer.

That raises speculation that AI(R) might be contemplating a deal with Saab, which is struggling to sell its Saab 2000 turboprop and would benefit from having a regional jet in its portfolio.

Now that AI(R) has dropped its Jetstream 41 production line, there would be no conflict with either of Saab's turboprops - the successful 340 and the new 2000.

"We have said many times we feel the time has come for a rationalisation of the regional aircraft industry," says Gavin.



"I am convinced that this project could be the focal point of a new step toward such a consolidation; therefore, we will keep our product development options open."

Gavin says AI(R) is "-clearly convinced" that the market exists for a 70-seat regional jet and that such an aircraft must be part of its product range, but he will not be pressured into a premature launch.

"We know we do have some pressure from the market, but I think we can wait a few months - not many - because some of our customer decisions are not due for a few months.

"We believe that some of our launch customers are prepared to wait," says Gavin.

Gavin also emphasises his faith in the future of the turboprop market. "It is definitely not dead," he says.

"This year, to date, AI(R) has taken more than 60% of the turboprop market worldwide.

"Not only are the 1997 sales results extremely encouraging in terms of numbers, they are excellent from a market positioning standpoint."



In general, Gavin is bullish about AI(R)'s future, saying that the outlook now looks much more favourable than it did at Farnborough.

Sales this year include ATR contracts from AMR American Eagle in the US, China Xinjiang Airlines, Italian carrier Air Dolomiti and CityFlyer Express in the UK.

Gavin particularly notes the Chinese contract, saying this has opened the door to the country. AI(R) will announce a cooperative industrial agreement with Chinese industry today.

Source: Flight Daily News