Fokker gains brief reprieve

PETER RODGERS

Business Editor

Fokker, the stricken Dutch aircraft maker, was yesterday given a five- to six-week reprieve by its government while a search continues for a buyer.

Hans Wijers, Dutch economic affairs minister, said the government was making an interim loan of 255m guilders (pounds 100m) and would also bring forward the purchase of four Fokker jets worth 110m guilders.

Mr Wijers played down the chances of a rescue from any quarter. He said: "There is no reason whatsoever for great optimism. The company faces very great problems." Partners still had to be found for Fokker in a very short period in an industry with "large financial risks, continuing overcapacity and ruinous prices. For the time being it is just words and paper."

The cash holds out hope to Shorts Brothers, the Belfast company where about 800 staff depend on supplying wings for Fokker's planes.

On Tuesday, Fokker sought court protection from creditors for its three aircraft subsidiaries, ending a long struggle to keep the 76-year-old company afloat.

The move came after Daimler-Benz, Fokker's German majority shareholder, said it could no longer support losses at Fokker, which is minority owned by the Dutch government.

There has been persistent speculation that Canadian-based Bombardier, owner of Shorts, is interested in buying Fokker, but so far neither Bombardier nor Fokker has confirmed talks are taking place.

Bombardier has a reputation for buying and turning round companies in difficulty. It makes regional jets and executive and commuter aircraft such as the Canadair RJ and Challenger, de Havilland Dash 8 and LearJet.

Fokker has however confirmed it is talking to a number of aerospace companies around the world without naming them.

Analysts expect that if Bombardier does buy Fokker it will do so only after the Dutch government has cleaned it up. The price is thought likely to be purely nominal.

Mr Wijers said the amount agreed with the administrators "was based on providing enough time to produce a reasonable scenario, while preventing it from dragging on so long that the assurances would disappear."

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