One of the longest-running sagas in recent civil aerospace history may conclude this summer if the planned relaunch of the Fokker 70/100 regional jet gets the nod.
Ever since production of the Dutch twinjet ended in 1997, there have been on/off plans to relaunch the popular 80- to 110-seat family, masterminded by Jaap Rosen Jacobson, who was owner of Antwerp-based VLM Airlines. For many years the revival effort was made under the umbrella of the curiously named "Rekkof Restart" (the first word being Fokker spelt backwards). The latest revival is being attempted by Rekkof's successor, NG Aircraft, which is still headed by Jacobson. He is being assisted by a small team that includes former Fokker marketing chief and Fokker Aircraft USA chief executive Maarten Van Eeghen.
Powered by the Rolls-Royce Tay 620/650, the 107-seat Fokker 100 was a major derivative of the 1960s F28, which entered service with Swissair in March 1988. It was joined in 1995 by the smaller, 79-seat Fokker 70, but the collapse of Fokker a year later led to the twinjet's premature demise after 324 had been delivered. "I could have signed a very large order at that time with Mesa for the Fokker 70, but Fokker folded," says Van Eeghen.
NG Aircraft's focus will be the larger Fokker 100
After various abortive attempts over the next decade to relaunch the programme, when Jacobson managed to source all the production tooling from the manufacturer and suppliers and the intellectual property from the receiver, NG Aircraft believes it now has a strong business case to revive the aircraft.
"The whole project started again because one of our major operators told us it could see little or no improvement over the Fokker 100 with what's on offer today - that's because the aircraft is so light," says Van Eeghen.
NG aims to bring the twinjet back within five years, with build and performance updates, additional fuel capacity and - significantly - power from a new, but yet-to-be revealed engine. This will ensure full competitiveness with new-generation rivals such as the Embraer E-Jet family as well as the Pratt & Whitney GTF-powered Bombardier CSeries and Mitsubishi MRJ regional jet, believes NG Aircraft. The focus of the exercise will be the larger Fokker 100, but the 70 will also be offered.
For the dream to become a reality, NG Aircraft is awaiting approval in June from the European Union for a €20 million ($27 million) loan agreed with the Dutch economics ministry to be provided on the basis of supporting innovation in civil aircraft development.
Brussels approval - which Van Eeghen says should be a formality - will clear the way for the launch of the programme this summer, when the engine will also be revealed. The funding required to get the programme off the ground and through the demonstrator phase is €90 million, most of which has been committed, Van Eeghen says. "The programme will require around €500 million," he adds. "Once we get the green light for the loan we can start modifying the original prototype Fokker 100 and that should fly around 18 months later."
NG has linked with Stork's two Fokker divisions to support the revival, says Van Eeghen. "Lead engineer for phase one is Fokker Services in Nieuw Vennep. The proof-of-concept development aircraft will be modified by Fokker Aircraft Services at its Woensdrecht plant."
The demonstrator, expected to be ready by early 2012, will undertake "a couple of months" of testing, ahead of the construction of the first aircraft, which should arrive in 2015 and enter service by the end of that year.
Van Eeghen says work is under way to complete a digital mock-up of the entire aircraft. This will be key to NG's plan to modernise the production process, with a 20% reduction in build-costs targeted. Meanwhile the Dutch national aerospace laboratory NLR is designing a winglet for the enhanced aircraft.
Once launched, NG will finalise the production plan, which should include supplier partners responsible for major build packages. "We are already in negotiations with one or two potential partners. We are going to be far leaner than the old Fokker - we are a supply chain management company," says Van Eeghen.
NG Aircraft's market analysis predicts the revived twinjets could capture "a steady 12%" of the long-term market, "around 50 aircraft a year, which is probably too conservative," Van Eeghen says. "This aircraft could easily go for another 20 years as we don't see anything new being planned that will offer better performance - if necessary we could even make another jump like Boeing with the 737."