Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

FOKKER SAYS that it is in talks with "several" potential partners in an effort to stitch together a rescue package for the struggling Dutch company.

Fokker which applied for protection from its creditors on 23 January, says that it plans to continue full production while a deal is thrashed out. Under Dutch law, the company could continue to operate under protection, similar to US Chapter 11, for up to 18 months, provided that bridging finance is put in place. The Dutch Government agreed on 26 January to give Fokker a Dfl250 million ($150 million) bridging loan to temporarily keep the operation afloat while a buyer is sought.

Analysts on both sides of the Atlantic have already tipped Bombardier as a likely buyer, given its expansion in the regional-aircraft market and a track record for turning round aerospace manufacturers such as Canadair, de Havilland Canada and Shorts in conjunction with state support. Bombardier has denied the speculation.

The Canadian group has an added interest through Shorts, which builds wings for the Fokker regional-jet family. Shorts says that it has "no plans for the time being" to become involved in the rescue other than as a programme partner.

Shorts admits that the contract accounts for around 20-30% of its civil-aerospace activities, and could amount to as much as £80 million ($120 million) of the company's £400 million total sales.

The Belfast company, has already given notice of up to 1,500 redundancies if the Fokker work dries up, including 800 jobs on the wing assembly line and another 700 from support and engineering. The company hopes, that at least 500 jobs could be transferred within the group, however, as work builds up on other programmes, such as the Canadair Global Express and LearJet 45. For the time being, Shorts says that the Fokker wing line will remain open.

Other interest for Fokker could come from Asia. China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have all been involved in talks with Western manufacturers over ambitions to set up a regional-jet manufacturing line in the region.

Indonesia has already indicated its interest in looking at a Fokker rescue to help advance the ambitions of the country's state-owned aerospace group IPTN to enter the regional-jet market.

The main obstacle to a rescue will be in extracting Fokker from its existing debts and providing sufficient fresh capital to keep the manufacturer in business. The Dutch Government is expected to play a part in a rescue, but has already signaled that it is not prepared to write a blank cheque by its refusal to go along with the DFl2.3 billion recapitalisation proposed by Fokker's parent Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA).

Fokker's total debt is understood to be in the region of DFl3 billion. DASA is owed at least DFl1.4 billion, after taking over Fokker's liabilities for the second half of 1995 while negotiations continued with the Dutch Government. Another Df1.7 billion is owed to a mix of banks and institutions, with the Dutch ABN-Amro bank the biggest single lender.

DASA and the Daimler-Benz finance arm debis are further exposed to Fokker, having taken over its lease-book of 69 aircraft. It also employs around 1,200 jobs at Hamburg in making fuselages for the regional jet.

Any rescue seems certain to see the break-up of Fokker, with space and military interests among the candidates to be sold off as separate businesses. Under its latest restructuring plan, Fokker had already began the process by splitting off key aircraft assembly and design functions from production and support activities. The Avia-Diepen spares business is among those already sold. Fokker's 43% share in Belgium company SABCA, seems certain to be sold.

See News Analysis, P34

Source: Flight International