COMPETITION TO join with China and South Korea to design and produce a new 100-seat regional jet is intensifying, with rival European and US manufacturers now submitting their best and final offers.

Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) and the Korean Commercial-aircraft Development Consortium (KCDC) are expected to select a Western partner for the Airexpress AE100 project before the end of the year. A decision had been due earlier this year, but has been repeatedly delayed.

A South Korean source says that Boeing and an Aerospatiale-led European team consisting of British Aerospace and Alenia are "...running neck and neck". Separate bids, have also been submitted, by McDonnell Douglas (MDC) and Daimler-Benz Aerospace.

Aerospatiale chairman Louis Gallois, speaking to Flight International at the Lima '95 defence show in Malaysia this month, says: "The competition is extremely open. Our people are still working hard in Beijing and Seoul and we are still competing."

Earlier press reports from the China Xinhua News Agency had suggested that the European consortium was inching ahead, following comments made by a senior official.

AVIC vice-president Wang Ang is reported to have stated that the Sino-Korean programme would involve "many other aviation companies, European ones especially."

Adding to the speculation was the last-minute cancellation of a planned visit to Seoul and the Far East by Boeing chairman Frank Shrontz. It has been suggested, however, that the cancellation was largely caused by Boeing's discussions of a possible merger with MDC.

Observers instead suggest that Wang's comments are more likely to be intended as a negotiating tactic. "Public stances in China are used to winkle people out of corners," says one official. "Boeing is being given an extra push to make the last few steps."

Boeing has offered to sell key technology to AVIC and KCDC in exchange for a 20% stake in the AE100 programme, while the three European companies are seeking a 30% share in return for a larger risk and revenue participation.

The two competitors are understood to be trying to counter each other with modified final proposals. The European consortium has offered to lower its stake to "around 25%", while Boeing is trying to demonstrate a greater commitment to the project.o

Gallois: "We are still competing"

Source: Flight International