Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

Fairchild Dornier flew its prototype 328JET for the first time on 20 January, bringing it a step closer to entering the emerging 30-seat regional-jet market.

The aircraft took off at 11:16 local time from the company's Oberpfaffenhofen site near Munich, and was flown for nearly 2h over the Bavarian Alps at altitudes of up to 25,000ft (7,600m). At the controls were Meinhardt Feuersenger, hitherto chief test pilot of the turboprop 328, and Peter Weger, who piloted the first flight of the Eurofighter EF2000 in 1994.

"Pilots will love this aircraft," says Feuersenger, adding that the modified aircraft - originally built as the second 328 turboprop prototype - performed "flawlessly". The original Pratt & Whitney PW119B engines have been replaced with 27kN (6,100lb)-thrust PW306/9 turbofans.

According to Fairchild Dornier senior vice-president for product development Earl Robinson, the flight included an initial assessment of handling qualities and system checks, including landing- gear retraction. The aircraft was limited to a maximum 220kt (410km/h) airspeed, although it is designed to cruise at over 400kt.

The company holds 17 firm orders and 15 options for the 328JET to date, including six orders from French launch customer Proteus Airlines and four firm orders, with four options, from Aspen Mountain Air. Talks are under way with further potential customers, including AMR Eagle, Business Air and Continental Express. Service entry is due in the first quarter of 1999.

Fairchild Dornier is also talking to potential industrial partners on the 70-seat X28JET, with a view to launching this programme and possibly the stretched 40- to 43-seat 428JET in early April. The company declines to name potential partners in the 70-seat project, but they are understood to include Fuji, which may manufacture the wing, Kawasaki and Textron.

Source: Flight International