Fairchild Dornier is planning to develop a 70-seat regional jet and has abandoned a scheme to compete in the already-crowded 50-seat market sector with a stretched derivative of its 328JET.

The US-German manufacturer will roll out the prototype of its Dornier 328 turboprop-derived 32-seat, Pratt & Whitney Canada PW306B-powered 328JET on 6 December, but says that it sees "no market" for its planned 50-seat version, the so-called 528JET.

"Most of the major [50-seat] contracts will have been awarded by next year," says Fairchild Dornier senior vice-president for regional aircraft, Earl Robinson.

"It makes no sense to be third in the market," he says, referring to the existence of the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) and Embraer EMB-145 regional jets, "so we will leapfrog that market into the next segment."

Robinson believes that the rival Aero International (Regional)'s Air Jet 70 will "-never be launched", and that the EMB-145 is "unstretchable to 70 seats". This leaves the CRJ 700 and the existing Aero International (Regional) RJ70 as the only aircraft available in the market sector.

Although the design is still fluid, Fairchild Dornier is focusing on a twin-engined, low-wing configuration reminiscent of the regional-jet designs originated by Dornier's previous owner, Daimler-Benz Aerospace. The aircraft has a four- or five-abreast cabin.

"We need an engine with a 44-46in [1.12-1.17m] fan diameter which will it easily under the wing," says Robinson, adding that candidates include the Allison AE3012, BMW Rolls-Royce BR700, General Electric CF34-8 and Pratt & Whitney Canada/ Snecma SPW14.

According to Robinson, Fairchild Dornier has the resources to fund the expected $450-500 million needed to launch the project, and claims that a launch commitment is "not vital". The biggest challenge for the company will be to "-get the [unit] selling price down to $17.5-18 million", says Robinson. Talks with airlines such as German flag carrier Lufthansa and Swiss regional Crossair are already under way on design configuration.

Four potential risk-sharing partners are in discussion with Fairchild Dornier over the wing-manufacturing contract, which represents around $80 million of the total development cost, says Robinson.

"We're talking to Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin's Argentine subsidiary, Taiwan's Aerospace Industries Development, and Fuji Heavy Industries," he says.

Source: Flight International