Fairchild Aerospace is still weighing up its choices for the next variant of its low-wing range of aircraft, says executive vice-president Barry Eccleston.

The company plans to fly its first 70-85-seater 728 regional jet next year, with first deliveries in 2002, with the 95-105-seater 928 following into service in 2004.

The smaller 528 is "nominally" due in service the following year, said Eccleston at the show yesterday.

"There was press speculation at the end of last year that our next aircraft (after the 928) would be a stretched 928. Right now that remains speculation.

"We've protected the position for a third aircraft but there's no final decision on whether it will be the 528 or another 928.

"We will wait to see what the marketplace tells us."

Eccleston admits that a larger 928 would see Fairchild dealing with major airlines, rather than regional carriers. It would also take it into direct competition with Boeing and Airbus. Traditionally, Fairchild has said it does not want to go down that road, but the burgeoning regional jet market may yet make that decision for the company.

Fairchild predicts a market for 8,000 regional jets below 100 seats over the next 20 years, and Eccleston believes there is enough business for the three main players - Fairchild, Bombardier and Embraer - to survive quite happily over the next decade.

At present, sales are split fairly evenly between those companies.

"I believe there's room for three manufacturers in the regional jet business. I don't see the market consolidating down to two just yet.

He believes, however, that the remaining manufacturers of regional turboprops will go to the wall: "Last year provided the confirmation that the regional jet revolution is almost complete. There were 534 orders taken for regional jets and only 20-25 for regional turboprops."

Source: Flight Daily News