Andrew Doyle/TEL AVIV

ATR partners Aerospatiale and Alenia are trying to wrap up, by the end of March, a deal with either Fairchild Dornier or Embraer for the joint development of a family of regional jets.

Talks with Fairchild Dornier, which began last month, are to continue through January. The Franco-Italian consortium now favours the same concept of a three-member aircraft family based on a core, five-abreast 70-seater which is driving the development of Fairchild's 728JET.

"Fairchild Dornier is the candidate with whom the talks are most intense," ATR senior vice-president commercial Alain Brodin said in Tel Aviv after the company had delivered the first ATR 72-500 to Israeli carrier Arkia. "Within the next two to three months we will know who will be our partner."

Brodin admits that with Bombardier's Regional Jet Series 700 already occupying the 70-seat segment, there would "probably" be no place in the market for ATR's Airjet 70 if Fairchild Dornier presses ahead with the 728JET project alone or with another partner such as Embraer.

However, Brodin notes recent comments by Embraer president Mauricio Botelho which appear to indicate that the Brazilian manufacturer's appetite for expanding into the 70-seat market has "declined a little bit". Botelho said in December that a major obstacle to the success of such a programme was the issue of US scope clauses preventing many major operators from buying 70-seat jets.

Brodin describes ATR's experiene with its existing turboprop customer base of 92 operators as "a very big asset that we have to bring to the table" in negotiations with Fairchild Dornier.

Issues to be resolved include ATR's current preference for a rear-engined aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada/Snecma SPW14 engines, while Fairchild Dornier picked a wing-mounted engine layout using the General Electric CF34-8 for the 728JET. Fairchild Dornier already has letters of interest from Lufthansa CityLine and Crossair covering up to 240 728JETs.

"We want to be careful not to launch an aircraft that suits just two airlines," says Brodin. "The potential orders of Lufthansa and Crossair are huge but we have to be careful not, for example, to build an aircraft that the US airlines find too big or outside their scope clauses."

Aerospatiale and Alenia's own market analysis calls for a go-ahead decision by the end of the first quarter of 1999, leading to first deliveries of a 75-seater in early-2003. A 55 to 60-seat shrink model would follow two years later, and be joined eventually by an 85 to 90-seat stretched version. Fairchild Dornier plans to fly the 728JET much earlier - in 2000.

Casa of Spain is expected to join any ATR regional jet project as a risk-sharing partner. Brodin says Aerospatiale and Alenia would not necessarily hold equal stakes.

Source: Flight International