ALITALIA HAS selected the Fokker 70 to boost its presence on regional and feeder routes. The Italian carrier has agreed to lease 15 of the aircraft from the Dutch manufacturer.

The aircraft will be operated by Avianova, a Rome based regional carrier in which, Alitalia has a controlling interest. Avianova has previously been flying ATR turboprops on local routes, but now its services are expected to be extended to include new destinations in Germany, France and the UK.

The contract, which is expected to be signed finally within the next two months, has enabled the manufacturer to increase its Fokker 70/100 production rate for this year from 39 to 42 - the bulk of which are the 70-seat version. The upward swing in the output rate from a low point of just 33 in 1994 is evidence of improving fortunes on the sales front for the Daimler-Benz Aerospace subsidiary. There are now 59 firm orders for the Fokker 70.

Four of the Alitalia aircraft will be delivered late this year, followed by six next year and five in 1997. The aircraft, thought to be on ten-year leases, will be configured for 66 seats - half of which will be business class. In a move unusual for regional carriers, Alitalia is installing an in-flight telephone service and personal-video systems for business-class passengers.

Fokker beat off a challenge from Avro Aerospace's RJ70, even though the UK company mounted a late bid with an offset package including maintenance and engine work.

Refuting local reports saying that Fokker retaliated with an offset package of its own, Bernard Dijkhuizen, Fokker's director for marketing and sales, says that his company did "...not offer any offset". Economy of operation and speed were the reasons Alitalia selected the aircraft, he says.

Source: Flight International