Dornier 328JET production to resume early next year

 - February 4, 2008, 10:41 AM

Leesburg, Va.-headquartered AvCraft Aviation’s takeover of Fairchild Dornier’s 328 program, including the 328JET production line at Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, was pronounced complete on March 26 by insolvency administrator Dr. Eberhard Braun, who is responsible for selling off the various divisions of the bankrupt aircraft manufacturer. According to the plant’s new management, production should resume during the first quarter of next year. AvCraft Aviation LLC, incorporated in Delaware in 1999, will continue to operate the OEM under the Fairchild Dornier name for the time being.

Early last year, Braun had announced that production of the 328JET would continue until all orders at hand were fulfilled. But when several airlines abruptly canceled their orders, 18 completed aircraft and five more in various stages of assembly remained at the manufacturer’s plant. The new owner is trying to sell these aircraft while the production line is being prepared for reactivation, but times could hardly be worse for finding buyers willing to acquire new regional airliners. The executive Envoy 3 version of the aircraft may be easier to sell, but an STC for that version remains unsecured. Three of the 18 remaining 328JETs have already been delivered to factory-authorized service center Aero-Dienst at Nuremberg since AvCraft’s takeover of the 328 line. Aero-Dienst will also serve as regional distributor for the Envoy 3. AvCraft plans to establish a total of five service centers outside the U.S.

Back To Work in Oberpfaffenhofen

According to Wolfgang Walter, managing director of the German plant, 220 people at the Oberpfaffenhofen site are currently on the AvCraft payroll. They are charged with supporting a fleet of some two hundred 328 airplanes in operation (about equally divided between the jet and turboprop versions) and providing spares management and engineering. Walter previously served as senior vice president of the 328 program with Fairchild Dornier and thoroughly knows the product. AvCraft/Fairchild Dornier senior vice president of sales and marketing Robert Stanford is responsible for marketing the remaining aircraft and finding additional customers for newly built 328JETs.

Current production plans call for completing the aircraft in various stages of assembly by year-end, and then to relaunch production at the rate of 18 jets next year. This production level is well below the capacity limit set at 54 aircraft per year at Fairchild Dornier’s German plant. The company does not plan to resume production of the 328-110 turboprop at this stage, as quite a few aircraft of that type are currently available on the second-hand market. In addition to the type certificates for the 328 and 328JET, AvCraft also acquired the manufacturing rights for the stretched 428 version, which it said it may launch in the future.

Walter plans to start rehiring former staff members of Fairchild Dornier in the months to come, both to complete aircraft partially assembled and to prepare long-lead items for series production next year. Walter indicates that many of the former Fairchild Dornier staffers are still available for the resumed production of 328JETs at Oberpfaffenhofen. The revived company plans to hire an additional 120 workers before the end of the year to prepare the production relaunch. Fairchild Dornier will need a total of about 500 people at the German plant for the scheduled production of 18 aircraft next year.

German federal authorities and the insolvency administrator have tried to keep the manufacturing staff available by enrolling them into an “occupational program” with reduced salaries. This was canceled last year, when federal funds legally available for such programs were exhausted, but the state of Bavaria had provided additional funds at a lower level. The European Commission announced an inquiry to determine whether these programs comply with legislation limiting public subsidies to private companies, but this action should be of no concern to AvCraft. Although unemployment is currently high in Germany, a certain number of skilled assembly-line workers and technicians have found new jobs in the regional industry or relocated to work elsewhere in Europe. Walter is optimistic, however, that he can hire all the specialists he needs to relaunch 328 production.

In another development, former Fairchild Dornier manager Thomas Brandt told the German press that negotiations concerning a possible takeover of the 728 program for a family of 70- to 100-seat airliners had started with the state-owned Chinese aircraft manufacturer XAC. At press time, he cautioned that negotiations were at an early stage and results should not be expected quickly.

Meanwhile, some former employees at AvCraft’s facility in Tyler, Texas, where employment has dropped from a high of more than 100 to about 22 today, continue their efforts to seek redress for claimed unpaid compensation and benefits. Attorneys representing some of the employees filed the first lawsuit against AvCraft with the Smith County Court in Texas last month.