Fairchild Dornier must be feeling loved. According to its senior managers, the company is knee-deep in 'expressions of desire' for the four new regional jets that it launched in a single day. But questionmarks hang over the true level of interest in these regional jets, especially in the 70-seat and higher versions.

Fairchild Dornier has added 40-, 50-, 70- and 90-seaters to the 30-seat 328JET that was rolled out earlier this year. The company says this means it will pursue two new family programmes simultaneously: the 328/428 and the 528/728/928 families.

Lufthansa CityLine and Crossair each want to become launch customers for the larger jet family, although there are no contracts yet. Eurowings, Proteus Airlines and Uni Air have also expressed 'strong interest', says the manufacturer. The 728JET would lead the programme, entering service in 2001, followed by the 528JET in 2002 and the 928JET in 2003. Development costs will be 'a little north of $1 billion,' says Fairchild Dornier president Jim Robinson.

Behind Fairchild's cavalier approach to launches is the pressure it is under from airlines. 'The airlines said they wanted a commitment to a family,' says Robinson.

Fairchild seems to be banking on the high load factors that regional jet operators are now enjoying.

Fairchild is also considering a private debt placement or an initial public offering. 'This could be seen as one way of exciting prospective shareholders into believing there are major opportunities ahead when, in fact, the only real customers the company has right now are for the 328,' says one industry observer.

Source: Airline Business