Fairchild Dornier is talking to "more than four" rival aerospace companies about becoming a "long-term strategic partner", as chairman Chuck Pieper concedes the need to find one urgently is "critical and crucial".

Speaking at last week's roll-out of the 728 regional jet, Pieper said that the US-owned manufacturer has a "cash burn rate of $50 million a month". He declined to name potential suitors, but said a partner with "more than just capital" is needed. Industry sources suggest Boeing is the front runner.

Pieper said the manufacturer needs a strong indication of intent from a potential partner to kick off due diligence and allow the release of up to $870 million further funding from existing shareholders Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and Allianz Capital.

Meanwhile, Fairchild Dornier says power-on testing will begin on the 728-100 prototype in April and that first flight has been pushed back to August. Certification of the baseline -100 is set to take place between September and December next year. The first flight target is three months behind schedule, while the certification programme is running between four and seven months late. It was originally due in May next year (Flight International, 19-25 March).

Approval of the longer range 728-200 is due in the first quarter of 2004, when it will become the standard production specification. The company expects to produce 10 728-100s, including five test aircraft, after which all new aircraft will be "-200 capable", says John Wolf, chief operating officer. Given that it will standardise on the 728-200 from 2004, the 728-100 delay raises the question as to whether Fairchild Dornier will put this lower weight model into production. Fairchild Dornier has 118 firm orders for the 728.

Source: Flight International