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Seastar project could be sunk

Paul Lewis/SINGAPORE

THE DORNIER SEASTAR CD-2 amphibious-aircraft programme is again on the verge of collapse, this time as the result of Malaysian company shareholders refusing to invest further funds in the project.

Plans to build the twin-engined Seastar in Malaysia are now more than a year behind schedule, and construction of a factory at Penang's international airport has not yet begun.

According to a company source, Dornier Seastar (Malaysia) is being "wound down" until funding can be secured.

The joint-venture agreement was signed originally in late 1993 by Dornier Seastar of Germany and a consortium of Malaysian investors, led by the formerly state-run Aerospace Industries of Malaysia (AIM). It called for a second, larger injection of equity to build the factory, and begin production of the amphibian in 1994.

Malaysian Helicopter Services (MHS) has since acquired a controlling 66.7% share in AIM, and company director Tajudin Ramli is understood to be opposed to any additional investment in the programme. AIM is the largest shareholder in Dornier Seastar, with a 30% stake.

The remaining Malaysian interest consists of holding company Realmild and police co-operative Koperasi Polis, each with a 20% share. A further 5% was held by Tunas Bahagia, but the company has since pulled out of the consortium.

Investors are understood to be concerned about the programme's technical and financial viability. The problems of transferring the Seastar's German type-approval and acquiring internationally recognised production certification still need to be resolved (Flight International, 10-16 August, 1994, P5).

Dornier Seastar of Germany has retained a 25% stake in the aircraft and, according to company chairman Conrado Dornier, is still prepared to contribute its share of the needed capital. "From our side, there is no holding back the process," says Dornier.

He admits that the programme is late and short of funding, but he is optimistic of "....solving these problems soon".

Dornier adds that all the Seastar's tooling, jigs and composite moulds have already been transferred from Germany to Penang to allow production to begin as soon as a factory is built.

According to local sources, Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is pressing investors either to produce the needed capital or withdraw, and for new shareholders to be found.

Mahathir has strongly backed the Seastar venture as part of his Vision 2020 industrialisation drive, and will want to avoid any political embarrassment caused by a failure.

The staff of Dornier Seastar (Malaysia) has shrunk to just three employees in the meantime, and a prototype aircraft used for sales demonstrations has been placed in storage at Subang Airport. The first prototype remains with Dornier Seastar in Germany.

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