Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Lufthansa CityLine has backed away from making a formal commitment to the Fairchild Dornier 728JET programme by the end of 1998. A decision is not expected until March.

The German flag carrier's regional arm had been due to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in December, covering the basic configuration, performance and operating costs of the aircraft.

Fairchild Aerospace president Jim Robinson says Lufthansa is waiting for the manufacturer to finalise the specification of the proposed 928JET 90-seat stretch, even though the airline does not plan to buy that derivative initially.

"It's not a part of the contract, but they want to make sure the 928JET would meet their performance requirements. It all revolves around the wing and the engine," says Robinson.

He adds that Fairchild Dornier is considering boosting the performance of the 928JET - with possible wing modifications and the introduction of a more powerful, refanned General Electric CF34 powerplant - and this has to be balanced against the resulting loss of commonality with the other members of the family.

Fairchild plans to address Lufthansa's concerns about the 928JET at a meeting in early January. That will clear theway for the airline's supervisory board to consider approving a firm contract for 728JETs by March.

"What we'd like to do is have a definitive contract signed by the end of January," says Robinson. Lufthansa CityLine says: "We are very interested in the 728JET project and are still working on it very hard with the manufacturer. Fairchild is trying to get all the dates and all the facts that we need from them to make our analysis."

CityLine had signed what it terms a "letter of interest" covering up to 120 728JETs at the Berlin air show last May. Swiss carrier Crossair signed a similar agreement, but the airline has delayed its decision on placing an order.

The manufacturer hopes that Crossair will still sign up to the 728JET programme in 1999, after it has completed evaluating rival offerings from Avro, Bombardier and Embraer, as well as the 100-seat Airbus A318. ATR is also considering launching a 70-seater but is holding talks with Fairchild on the possibility of joining the 728JET programme.

Meanwhile, Fairchild has briefed the new German Government on the 728JET programme as part of its efforts to secure state funding.

Bavaria's state government is also due to consider providing financial backing when it meets in late January. Robinson says Fairchild has already managed to place $300 million of private debt with institutional investors.

Source: Flight International