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Fokker's demise is the most dramatic in a series of upheavals taking place throughout the regional-aircraft industry

Compiled by Andrew Doyle and Jennifer Pite/LONDON Graham Warwick/ATLANTA

FOKKER IS DOWN, the count almost over, but the winner is far from clear: not the customers left with unfulfilled orders for Fokker products; and not Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA), whose rout from the regional market will be complete if it succeeds in selling Dornier.

Fokker's demise would seem certain to benefit other regional-aircraft manufacturers - in the short term, by creating unfulfilled demand for 70- and 100-seat regional jets, and in the longer term, by accelerating the slimming-down of Europe's regional-aircraft industry.

The short-term benefit is already there to be seen: US regional Mesa Air is to return its two leased Fokker 70s, citing the bankruptcy, and is negotiating with Aero International (Regional) (AIR(R)), Bombardier and Embraer to acquire up to eight alternative regional jets within the next nine months. Mesa is also looking at used aircraft, including Fokker 100s.

AIRBUS POISED

Exactly who will benefit from further consolidation of the European regional-aircraft industry is not yet clear. The AI(R) grouping of Aerospatiale, Alenia and British Aerospace is closely aligned with Airbus Industrie and, with Aviation Industries of China pushing AI(R) to involve Airbus in the joint development of the proposed 100-seat Air Express AE-100 regional jet, Airbus may yet emerge as an important participant in the market.

Regional jets are an increasingly common sight in the USA. The latest figures from the US Regional Airline Association (RAA) show that two jet types made it into the top ten aircraft in airline service in 1995: the Avro RJ/BAe 146 family with 24 aircraft and the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet with 37.

The RAA figures also support the widely accepted wisdom that the use of 19-seat turboprops is declining in the USA - with the exception of the Raytheon Beech 1900. The Fairchild Metro slipped to tenth place in 1995, with some 30 fewer aircraft operated by RAA member-airlines than in the previous year.

These figures serve as some explanation for Fairchild's eagerness to acquire Dornier, and with it the 30-seat 328 high-speed turboprop. The company accepts that, without the kind of financing Raytheon has been able to provide Beech 1900D buyers, the USA is no longer a major market for new Metros, and it is concentrating its efforts overseas and on the marketing of used aircraft to start-up carriers.

It remains to be seen whether Fairchild can raise the funds to buy Dornier and, if it does, how it will turn the company into a low-cost producer. Under a former owner, Fairchild left a joint venture with Saab because it could not reconcile its need to make money with the Swedish manufacturer's need to sustain jobs. That left Saab to venture on to solo success with the 340.

19-SEATER DECLINE

The decline in 19-seaters was almost solely responsible for the overall reduction in the aircraft fleets of the RAA member-airlines in 1995. In fact, more regional jets (21 aircraft) were added to the US fleet in 1995 than turboprops (19 aircraft). Interestingly, ATR lost market share in 1995, the addition of six 66-seat ATR 72s to the US fleet being more than offset by the departure of 15 46-seat ATR 42s - fallout from the 1994 Roselawn ATR crash, perhaps.

Fokker's demise and DASA's negotiations to sell Dornier increase the uncertainty surrounding the future direction of Saab, which will be left standing alone as a European regional-aircraft manufacturer. The 50-seat, high-speed Saab 2000 has yet to emulate the sales success of the 340, and faces stiff competition from two 50-seat regional jets - Bombardier's eponymous Regional Jet and Embraer's new EMB-145, scheduled for certification and first deliveries by the end of 1996.

The departure of the Fokker 70 from the market is likely to give added impetus to Bombardier's measured progress towards the launch of the CRJ-X 70-seat stretched Regional Jet. The Canadian company has already launched development of the stretched Dash 8-400 70-seat, high-speed turboprop and it says that a CRJ-X launch could still come before the end of 1996.

Against this competitive background, efforts to rescue Fokker continue - although time is fast running out. Most recently, Russian design bureaux Tupolev and Yakovlev have sought up to $370 million in Russian Government financial backing for a bid. The two companies say that they plan to build 45 aircraft a year at Fokker for sale into Russia and other markets.

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