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Fairchild Dornier 528JET / 728JET / 928JET

Fairchild Dornier took a family approach to developing a new various regional jet aircraft. To remain competitive and meet market demands of regional airlines, Fairchild Dornier adopted the strategy of developing a family of new aircraft. The last series of aircraft under development by the company began with the 70-passenger 728JET, which was scheduled to enter service in 2003. This aircraft was to be followed by the 50-passenger 528JET in 2004 and the 100-passenger 928JET in 2005.

There were three principal entrants in the race to sell 30 to 100 seater jet aircraft in a business that is hungry to fill demand in the rapidly expanding regional airlines sector -- Bombardier, Embraer and Fairchild Dornier -- and the competition is cut-throat. With their CRJ (70-90 seats) and ERJ (35-90 seats) families borrowing heavily from previous design experience, Bombardier and Embraer have had a head-start in the market, putting immense pressure on Fairchild Dornier's 70-seat 728JET.

Strong cost competition forced major airlines to form global alliances to achieve control of regional air transport systems. Airlines played an increasingly important role in the decision-making processes of regional aircraft manufacturers. They required comfort equivalent to large aircraft standards, the same level of reliability, all-weather capability, and a turn-around time less than 20 minutes - but at a lower cost than turboprops.

Shoulder clearance and aisle width were the deciding parameters for fuselage width and passenger comfort. Taking the shoulder width of the 87.5 percentile U.S. male plus 15 mm for summer clothing, a relative comfort factor is defined by cabin width at shoulder height divided by 508 mm per passenger. Cabin cross section studies of four- and five-abreast configurations indicated the advantage of a five-abreast layout for the new aircraft family, with a cabin width of 10 ft. 8 in. [3,25 m] and cabin height of more than 7 ft. [2,05 m]. The results were no additional emergency exits over the wing, an obstacle-free cabin between front and rear doors, and sufficient tail angle clearance at takeoff.

Fairchild announced the launch of its 728 regional jet program, with deliveries of the first six aircraft scheduled for 2001. The 728, with 70 seats, featured a new low-wing design, with 2-wing mounted engines and 5-abreast seating. Development is expected to cost $500 million. The 728 Jet was to be followed by 55 and 90-seat derivatives.

The 100-seat 928JET was not a simple 'stretch' of the 728JET, but was optimized for economic efficiency at 100 seats. The 100-seat 928JET had a slightly larger wing than that on the 728JET and a growth engine that was perfect for this size aircraft. The 928JET wingspan is 94 feet, 6 inches with a wing area of 908.5 square feet, compared with the 728JET's 89-foot wingspan and 807 square-foot wing area. The 928JET would use two CF34-10D engines, each with 17,100 pounds of thrust, while the 728JET used the CF34-8D3 engine with 12,500 pounds of thrust.

For the 100-seat 928JET, the fuselage would be stretched by four frame bays ahead of the wing and three frame bays aft of the wing. The fuselage center section would be redesigned to take the larger wing and higher loads. To fly the 928 on the same slots/routes as the 728, wing size would be increased from 75 m2 to 84.4 m2. The outboard wing would come from the 728, whereas the inner wing would be scaled up to a larger size. For the 55-seat 528, the aft fuselage section of the 728 would be reduced by three frame bays, and the three-frame-bay-shorter front section would be a redesign of the 728's. It featured the same wing as the 728.

Intensive tradeoff studies were done considering new technologies, pilot workload, reliability, startup cost, operational cost, and technical risk. A fly-by-wire flight control system with pilot-in-the-loop was determined to be the best solution for the jets. The primary flight control system was to consist of two elevators with two actuators each in active/active mode for pitch control; two ailerons with two actuators per surface in active/standby mode; three spoilers with one actuator per surface in active/lock-down mode for roll; and one rudder with three actuators all in active mode for yaw. This system would be powered by a triplex hydraulic supply.

Production of the first 728JET began in September 2000. Technicians at SABCA in Belgium manufactured the first aluminum components for the aircraft fuselage, while CASA personnel in Spain fabricated the first components for the wing. Other components being produced in Belgium included those for the empennage. Empennage sections were to be assembled by SABCA using components and pressure bulkheads produced by Fairchild Dornier in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. The aircraft's wings were to be fabricated and assembled in Spain by CASA before being shipped to Germany for assembly on the airframe in August 2001. Wing production began in October 2000, with assembly of the first center wing box in January 2001 and the outer wing box in February. First flight of the 728JET prototype was to be in 2002, followed by flight test, certification, and entry into service in 2003.

Lufthansa signed a contract for 60 firm 728JETs on April 29, 1999, valued at approximately $1.6 billion. The airline also had taken options for 60 additional aircraft. Deliveries were scheduled to begin in 2002. Flight Options, a US fractional ownership company, announced at the Paris Air Show in June 1999 that it will buy 25 Envoy 7 business jets in a deal valued at more than 760 million US-Dollars. Safadi, a holding group basid in Lebanon, signed a letter of intent for an Envoy 7 on November 12, 1999. Delivery was scheduled for 2003.

German contractor Fairchild Dornier announced during June 2001 that it was proposing to develop an AEW & C variant of its General Electric CF34-8D series turbofan-powered 728JET regional airliner that would be equipped with a Northrop Grumman AEW radar. Here, the platform would be fitted with a 7.3 m diameter dorsal rotodome (derived from that used on the Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye/Hawkeye 2000 AEW aircraft) housing either a variant of Northrop Grumman's mechanically scanned ADS-18 antenna or an Ultra High Frequency (UHF - 300 MHz to 3 GHz) electronically steered array. Internally, the 728JET AEW & C aircraft would be able to accommodate up to six operator consoles, a `command workstation' area, a crew rest area, fore and aft lavatories and a galley that would be `large enough to serve any size of AEW crew'. Use of the company's `Super Shark' winglets would allow the platform to operate at a maximum gross take-off weight of 39,500 kg and the company estimated that a 728JET AEW & C variant would be able to remain on station (at an altitude and range from base of 10,600 m and 161 km respectively) for `more than' eight hours and operate from a 1,737 m long runway situated in a `remote location'. At the time of the announcement, Fairchild Dornier believed that it could field such a platform during the period 2005 to 2006.

Fairchild Dornier Insolvency

In April 2002, Fairchild Dornier filed for insolvency under German law, a move similar to entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US. The corporation had accumulated a debt of $670 million. The company, owned by the German insurer Allianz Capital Partners and the American investment firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice, had been trying for months to line up a strategic partner to help it bring to market the 70-seat jet it has been developing since 1998. Fairchild Dornier, whose sales had lagged far behind the two industry leaders, ran into trouble by underestimating the cost of developing the new 728JET. The company had 125 firm orders for the new jet. The prototype was scheduled to make its first flight in August 2002.

The court appointed Fairchild Dornier filed bankruptcy administrator determined that the company would have to be sold in pieces. Fairchild/Dornier entered into bankruptcy and sold the rights to its aircraft. programs to various investors in early 2003. Fairchild Dornier's assets went to AvCraft (Virginia, USA), RUAG Aerospace (Switzerland) and M7 Aerospace (Texas, USA).

China had long held ambitions of building a family of regional jets and the advanced stage of 728JET development prior to the collapse of FairchildDornier program in 2002 represented an important source of technology. But state-owned AVIC II was already set to produce the ERJ145 in China under license, and nothing came of the potential revival of the 728JET program in 2003 by Chinese company D'Long International Strategic Investment.

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