Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Fairchild Aerospace is close to landing a deal for over fifty 728JETs from General Electric Capital Aviation Services (GECAS).

Contract completion is expected in time for an announcement to be made at the ILA2000 show which starts in Berlin on 6 June.

Sources at the manufacturer and the lessor confirm the pending agreement, which is understood to include 28 firm orders and a similar number of options. GECAS, which already has 28 regional jets in its portfolio, declines to comment on any 728JET order, but says: "We are very committed to the regional market and maybe there will be more to announce in the future."

Fairchild chief executive Chuck Pieper confirms the manufacturer expects to reveal "a big order from a customer just outside New York city within the next two weeks", but declines to comment on the identity of the buyer. Pieper has close links with GE, having previously run several businesses within the US conglomerate.

The order will provide a major shot in the arm for the GECF34-powered 728JETprogamme, which a year ago attracted a commitment for 60 aircraft from Lufthansa CityLine. A number of the corporate version of the type, known as the Envoy 7, have also been sold.

Meanwhile Fairchild is discussing a possible further slip in the 728JET development programme with launch customer Lufthansa CityLine, which would be primarily aimed at enabling the manufacturer to reduce the 70-seater's structural weight.

A decision on the move, which would push the aircraft's entry into service date beyond the current November 2002 target, is expected shortly and could be revealed at ILA2000. The review forms part of a wide-ranging audit of Fairchild's operations being carried out following the company's recent take-over by a Clayton, Dubilier & Rice-led consortium.

Pieper concedes that earlier uncertainties surrounding the company's re-financing, completed a few weeks ago, had led to difficulties in securing the full commitment of risk-sharing partners on the 728JET and 428JET development programmes, causing them to slip behind schedule.

Fairchild chief operating officer John Wolf says it remains unclear whether the 728JET's development timetable will be maintained. "I think it's very aggressive at this stage," he says. "I think we can paint a pretty clear picture of where we expect it to be at Berlin," he adds, emphasising that "Lufthansa is working with us".

The manufacturer has already revealed a six- month slip in the 728JET programme at Asian Aerospace last February.

Source: Flight International