Airline rethinks Fairchild Dornier 728 order as chances fade for the programme's rescue

CSA Czech Airlines is now resigned to seeking alternatives for the Fairchild Dornier 728 regional jet as it seems increasingly likely that the project will be terminated.

The carrier was one of only two airline customers for the 70-80 seater, the other being launch customer Lufthansa CityLine, which holds 60 orders. Lessor GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) also held 50 orders, but this contract has been cancelled following Fairchild Dornier's financial woes.

"I am absolutely sure that we need a regional jet," says CSA president Miroslav Kula. "We have started discussions with Embraer and Bombardier."

The airline holds orders for four 728s (it also had planned to lease four from GECAS), which were originally scheduled for delivery from September next year. The delivery schedule had already slipped before the manufacturer's financial problems, and Kula acknowledges that replacement aircraft would not join the fleet until at least March or April 2004. Boeing 737s would fill the gap as an interim solution, Kula says.

As well as the regional jets, CSA may soon add more widebody aircraft. The airline operates two Airbus A310-300s on its longer routes, but "this is not a real long-haul aircraft", says Kula. It cannot reach the hubs of CSA's SkyTeam partners Delta Air Lines and Korean Air in Atlanta and Seoul respectively, resulting in CSA starting talks regarding a potential purchase or lease of A330s or Boeing 767s to open the routes by mid-2003. If this is too costly, Kula says, the services could be operated as codeshares by Delta and Korean Air.

Shorter routes from Prague to Edinburgh and Glasgow are also planned for its summer 2003 schedule, but expanding London services will be more difficult. "I wanted to operate more services to London, but CSA cannot get slots at any of the airports. I do not think this is a fair and equal opportunity for CSA. We have been applying for more slots for four or five years now without any success," Kula complains.

The Czech government indirectly owns 88% of the airline, but a privatisation is on the way. The government has decided on an initial public offering (IPO), which will keep 51-52% in government hands and place 36-37%on the market. "It is natural that our SkyTeam partners would take some portion of the shares," says Kula. The fall in stock prices around the world and the current civil aviation crisis have delayed the IPO, which will now wait at least until 2003 - Kula's own preference would be for mid-2004.


Source: Flight International