Jens Flottau/MUNICH Andrew Doyle/BERLIN

The chief executives of Fairchild Aerospace and ATR partners Aerospatiale and Alenia are expected to meet on 22 March to discuss joint-venture plans amid signs that the US company may be willing to make major concessions to secure a regional aircraft tie-up.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Crossair and Lufthansa - prospective launch customers for Fairchild's 728JET regional jet family - have urged the company not to pursue a joint-venture strategy and so avoid a time-consuming redefinition of the aircraft design.

One main sticking point to be resolved at the 22 March meeting is Alenia's insistence on setting up a final assembly line in Naples, but sources close to the talks suggest Fairchild may offer to set up the 528JET and 928JET lines in Italy and build only the 728JET at Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany.

This arrangement would give Alenia time to prepare its factory for the work because the 728JET is being developed first, with deliveries expected by mid-2002.

Fairchild had planned to double its workforce at Oberpfaffenhofen within five years by building all three models there, and is seeking German and Bavarian state aid for the project.

ATR accepts "at this time" that Fairchild will retain overall leadership of the project, say the sources, and the key question is the economic viability of a joint-venture approach.

Both sides agree that a new company should be set up with a clear management structure, which could eventually be floated, say the sources. It is thought Fairchild would not accept decisions compromised by political considerations or a lack of consensus, or any further delay to the programme.

A dispute over suppliers is also unresolved, with Aerospatiale calling for the selection of the Pratt & Whitney Canada/Snecma SPW14 engine and Sextant avionics. Fairchild has already picked General Electric and AlliedSignal to supply this equipment for the 728JET.

Spanish company CASA, which has been in lengthy talks to join any regional jet project launched by ATR, is believed to have already been chosen to build the 728JET wing.

ATR was rattled by reports in the German newspaper Starnberger Merkur that regional rival Bombardier had agreed to buy Fairchild. Both companies strongly deny the story, although Fairchild admits: "Everybody is talking to everybody."

Meanwhile, Swiss regional carrier Crossair has narrowed its evaluation to just two types - the 728JET range and a proposed 70-, 90- and 110-seat family from Brazil's Embraer - and is on course to decide by the end of June.

"We have encouraged Fairchild to concentrate on the product as it is at the moment," says Crossair executive vice-president and general manager marketing, Richard Heideker. "We are now waiting for Embraer to speed up so that we can make a decision during the first half of the year."

Crossair has some advice for Embraer too, he says. "We are trying to influence them to take out the 90-seater and make a 70- and 100-seat proposal instead."

A major issue that has emerged for the Swiss carrier is that the 728JET will be unable to use short runways such as those at London City Airport and Lugano in its current configuration.

"They hope they can find an economical solution," says Heideker. "Embraer is telling us that their 70-seater will be London City-compatible."

Source: Flight International