Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH Graham Warwick/Washington DC

FAIRCHILD AIRCRAFT of the USA is planning to launch a stretched high-speed version of the 33-seat Dornier 328 turboprop in "a matter of weeks" after its acquisition of a majority stake in the German manufacturer.

Mac Williams, Fairchild's president, says that the definition of the 50-seat 328EC is almost complete, with cost and schedule determinations now under way. An "early assessment" is planned by Fairchild of whether to continue production of the 19-seat Dornier 228. It already builds the rival Metro 23.

The long-awaited stretched version of the aircraft will boost the 328's sales potential, and appease existing Dornier 328 customers which bought the aircraft on the understanding that a stretch would soon follow.

Fairchild acquired an 80% stake in the Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA) turboprop division Dornier Luftfahrt on 5 June, despite an attempt to veto the move from Dornier family shareholders.

The 328 has been a financial disaster for Dornier, which was being forced to sell the aircraft at below cost price. Williams says that Fairchild will now send a "turnaround assistance" team to Dornier later this month. The US company says that financing for the deal has been put in place.

The decision was welcomed by the unions, which feared that, if the sale did not go ahead, DASA would shut the company down.

Before the take-over, Dornier Luftfahrt was a 100%-owned subsidiary of Dornier GmbH, in which the Dornier family holds a 42.45% stake, while retaining 12.5% of voting rights. The remainder is owned by DASA. Dornier GmbH retains a 20% stake in a company into which the turboprop manufacturer is to be integrated.The agreement with the US company does not include military-maintenance work carried out by Dornier.

DASA declines to comment on guarantees given by Fairchild for keeping 328 work in Germany, saying that continuity of the programme and safeguarding jobs at Oberpfaffenhofen are "key points" in its negotiations.

Fairchild has reportedly guaranteed to keep 1,200 jobs at Oberpfaffenhofen up to 1999. The site has a workforce of 2,400.

Williams says: "It is essential to reduce costs and increase sales as soon as possible." If 328 costs cannot be reduced sufficiently, Fairchild chairman Carl Albert has said that production will then be moved to the USA.

Dornier Luftfahrt recorded a turnover of around DM1 billion ($666.6 million) in 1995, making a loss of DM500 million. Fairchild, with a 1,000-strong workforce, earns about one-fifth of Dornier's turnover, but has been in profit since 1991.

The sale marks DASA's exit from the regional-aircraft market. Earlier this year, it abandoned its stake in Fokker Aircraft.


Source: Flight International