Bombardier damper on Fokker rescue

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The Independent Online
RUSSELL HOTTEN

Speculation increased last night that Bombardier, owner of the Belfast defence company Shorts Brothers, may get involved in a rescue plan for Fokker, the ailing aircraft manufacturer.

Bombardier has a big interest in seeing Fokker survive as 800 jobs at Shorts are dependent on supplying aircraft wings to the Dutch company, whose owner Daimler-Benz withdrew financial support on Monday.

Linda Coates, a Bombardier spokeswoman, said the suggestion that her company may buy part of Fokker or help with a bail-out was pure speculation. "Shorts Brothers has a supplier relationship with Fokker and that's it," she said.

Montreal-based Bombardier, involved in aerospace, consumer products and transport, has a history of acquiring troubled companies, particularly aircraft manufacturers, and turning them around. The compay, which is said to have large large financial resources, owns de Havilland, maker of the Dash 8 turboprop, and the jet-maker Learjet.

Although Fokker's aircraft assembly lines are likely to close, there were suggestions last night that the Dutch government might provide bridging loans until other parts of the company were sold.

Andre Mulder, analyst at BZW, said Bombardier was the most likely candidate to show an interest in Fokker. "But the Dutch government needs to clean up the company first and then offer it to Bombardier for a symbolic guilder." Another analyst said the Canadian company was "the most likely new parent in a long list of highly-improbable buyers."

Analysts dismissed BAe as a potential buyer as it is a direct competitor and would gain from Fokker's exit from an aircraft market plagued by over- capacity.

However, rival aircraft makers could suffer if 76-year-old Fokker went into receivership and aircraft were put on the market at reduced prices.

Fokker's aircraft production unit will probably stay airborne for the time being without creditor protection as Daimler had guaranteed the delivery of previously ordered Fokker planes.

Leo Steijn, for Fokker, said Daimler could also gain from this as two of its companies had bought dozens of leased Fokker planes in recent months. "That lease portfolio is worth 1.4 billion guilders (pounds 560m). If Fokker collapsed, that value falls dramatically," he said.

The Dutch government was holding a crisis meeting last night, trying to work out how to salvage the business after failure to agree a refinancing package with Daimler.

If Fokker falls it could trigger one of the biggest mass redundancies ever seen in the Netherlands.

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