Andrew Doyle/BERLIN

General Electric Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) is finalising a major order for Bombardier CRJs after signing contracts for up to 300 Embraer and Fairchild Dornier aircraft at last week's ILA2000 show in Berlin.

"We are in talks with GECAS and those discussions are continuing," says Bombardier. The size of the order is unclear, but it could be of a similar magnitude to its rivals - although possibly divided between 50- and 70-seater versions of the CRJ. The deal could be completed by the end of the month.

The Fairchild deal covers firm orders for 50 728JET 70-seaters, valued at $1.4 billion, and 100 options which are convertible to the larger 928JET. Deliveries will begin in 2003.

Embraer also picked up 50 firm orders for the 70-seat ERJ-170, valued by the manufacturer at $1.2 billion, plus 100 options which can also be converted to the larger ERJ-190-100/200. The first aircraft will be handed over in 2003.

The Brazilian company and GE Capital Aviation Training have also agreed to jointly set up an ERJ-170/190 training facility.

All three of the aircraft families are powered exclusively by versions of GE's CF34 turbofan.

The deals signal a decisive bid by the US lessor to dominate the rapidly emerging regional aircraft sector, which has so far gone untapped by the major leasing companies. It also represents a major vote of confidence for the in-development 728JET and ERJ-170 programmes, which have yet to attract a significant number of airline customers and first deliveries of which are not due for another three years.

"We recognise that the regional jet market is growing faster than the rest of the market," said GE Capital chief operating and financial officer Marc Meiches, speaking after the announcement of the 728JET and ERJ-170 orders. "As a result, we have been negotiating with Embraer and Fairchild to enter this market with products we feel our customers are going to need," he adds.

Meiches says all the aircraft being powered by GE engines was not a significant factor in the decision. "Obviously that is a big plus," he says, "but we buy, and have been buying, aircraft for our portfolio for many years that may not have the GE engine on them."

GECAS owns and manages around 950 aircraft, including 28 CRJs previously acquired from airlines as part of sale and leaseback deals. Firm orders for the 728JET/928JET stand at 118, while Embraer has 115 firm commitments for the ERJ-170/190.

Source: Flight International