Despite several contenders for one of the smallest niche markets in aviation, Fairchild Dornier believes it can find a slot in the airborne early warning (AEW) field.

Tom Jobe, the company's vice-president, government programmes, said at the show that its collaboration with Northrop Grumman on a proposed 728JET-based AEW system fitted would be less expensive than Boeing's 767- and 737-based competitors and more flexible than Brazilian/Swedish combination of Embraer regional jet and Erieye radar.

He accepts that it is a small market - estimates are for 50-60 aircraft over the next five to eight years - but stresses that Fairchild Dornier has a valid competitor. After a year of technical discussions with Northrop Grumman, the next step will be 'to work the business side of the house' to match up the aircraft with potential customers.

Fairchild Dornier is also pushing special mission variants of its 328JET - particularly to the US Customs Service.

The service has an unusual problem; many of its aviation assets are aircraft seized after carrying narcotics. This has resulted in a heterogeneous fleet, which gives training problems, says Jobe.

"The service is looking to replace what it calls 'interceptor' aircraft as well as 'low and slow' aircraft for chasing boats. We understand that four systems integrators have submitted our 328JET for the contract and we are proposing it ourselves."

A Customs aircraft is likely to have a variety of surveillance equipment including a search radar and forward-looking infra-red (Flir) seeker. If chosen, Fairchild Dornier would provide 'green' aircraft to an integrator rather than outfit them itself.

It is understood that orders for Customs could ultimately be in excess of 40 aircraft. However, says Jobe, "this is the second year in a row that we've had a Request for Information and we're still awaiting a Request for Proposals."

The problem is, as usual, one of money: "As far as we can see, there's nothing in the budget this year."

Source: Flight Daily News