Talks enter "decisive phase" as manufacturer ponders converting Fairchild Dornier 70-seater into 100 to 105-seater

Bombardier may decide to rescue bankrupt Fairchild Dornier's 728 regional jet programme in order to develop it into a 100 to 105-seat airliner. The Canadian company has completed its technical evaluation of the 728/928 family and has begun a commercial evaluation, says Bombardier chief executive Robert Brown. This includes talks with customers and suppliers, as well as the German and Bavarian governments.

Bombardier declines to comment on a German press report that it has agreed to continue 728 development and production at the Oberpfaffenhofen plant near Munich, while Fairchild Dornier confirms talks have entered a "decisive" phase.

Both companies say a final decision will be taken after completion of the commercial evaluation, expected in July or August.

"We're looking at the commercial part now, to see if it makes any sense for us," says Brown. "I think this could be potentially very complementary."

Bombardier is interested in the potential of using the five-abreast Fairchild Dornier design as the basis for a 100 to 105-seat aircraft to replace the BRJ-X project shelved two years ago.

"This is the key," Brown says, acknowledging the company's CRJ family of four-abreast regional jets has been stretched to the limit with the 86-seat CRJ900.

Bombardier is also interested in the 70-seat 728 jet, Brown says, because of the company's lack of success in penetrating the European market with its own CRJ700 regional airliner.

"What we are trying to do is see if we can establish a programme that would allow us to create a family of aircraft, with a couple of aeroplanes that would have five- abreast seating and would be profitable going forward," he says. "And that is the only basis on which we are looking."

The biggest hurdle to be overcome is funding. Brown estimates C$1.4 billion ($1 billion) will be required to bring the two aircraft to market - C$400 million to complete development of the 728 and C$1 billion to develop the 928.

The German and Bavarian authorities will be expected to provide grants or guarantees, but Brown says it is too early to talk about how much government money could be involved.

"We have to determine whether this project makes sense first," Brown says. "There is much to do."

Source: Flight International