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Fokker bankrupt

Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

ON 15 MARCH Fokker finally admitted defeat in its attempts to stave off bankruptcy, ending 77 years of aircraft manufacturing in the Netherlands when bids from AVIC of China and Samsung of South Korea failed to materialise.

The collapse leaves question marks hanging over its backlog of more than 50 aircraft and the impact on residual values across the regional market.

The main assembly plant at Schiphol is to be closed as aircraft production ceases, with the loss of around 4,700 jobs. A skeleton staff of 350 will be left at the plant to finish aircraft close to completion.

Negotiations will take place in the next few days as to how many more aircraft will be delivered, but initial estimates suggested that the number is likely to be around 15.

The closure potentially leaves around 15 airline customers with aircraft orders, which will not now be fulfilled. At the latest count Fokker had more than 50 regional jets and a dozen turboprop orders still on its books. That includes at least another 11 Fokker 70s for Alitalia's subsidiary Avianova stretching to late 1997.

Fokker promises that product support for the 1,130 Fokker aircraft now in service will be maintained, however, through part of a new stand-alone company, to be called Fokker Aviation.

As well as spares and product support, the new company will include a slimmed down aero-structures business, handling third-party work. Around 950 jobs will be transferred with these functions from the bankrupt business.

Three other businesses which were not included in the original filing for bankruptcy protection., are also to come under the Fokker Aviation banner. These are the profitable Fokker Aircraft Services maintenance operation, the electronics systems venture Fokker Elmo and industrial products manufacturer Fokker Special Products. Fokker Aviation will employ around 2,500 and hopes to reach a turnover of DFl1 billion ($600 million) over the next few years.

Job losses, will also be felt at UK aerospace company Shorts, which supplies wings for the Fokker regional jet. The wing assembly line had directly employed around 660, with as many as another 800 jobs in support and manufacturing jobs.

Shorts had originally declared that it would face a surplus of up to 1,460 jobs if the Fokker work was lost, but says that it has already pared that down to just over 1,000 through redeployment. The Belfast company, says that it hopes the number of redundancies will slim down further through redeployment of workers on to programmes, such as Bombardier's Canadair Regional Jet.

The importance of the Fokker work has been diminishing for Shorts, accounting for around $80 million of the group's overall $600 million sales.

Hundreds of jobs are also destined to go at Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA), which carries out fuselage work on Fokker aircraft. DASA employs 1,200 workers in its DASA Airbus subsidiary exclusively on Fokker programmes, although 600 of these were already due to go in the German company's own programme of cutbacks.

All employees on Fokker programmes will for now be working reduced hours. A few will later be offered jobs in other parts of the company, says DASA.

"We regret that it has come to this," says DASA. The German company acquired a 40% stake in Fokker, in 1993 with plans to use it as the core of a new European regional-aircraft venture, but after three years of mounting losses finally refused any further financial support, to the Dutch manufacturer in January.

Despite the strategic withdrawal, DASA and debis, the Daimler-Benz finance arm, remain exposed to Fokker through the portfolio of 69 leased aircraft which they took over from the ailing manufacturer in a previous restructuring attempt.

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