Fokker seeks protection from creditors

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The Independent Online

Fokker, the ailing Dutch aircraft manufacturer, said yesterday it would seek court protection from its creditors at its three aircraft units, ending a long struggle to save the 76-year-old company.

A group of smaller businesses including services, military and space equipment operations, employing about 3,000 staff, would not come under court protection, it added.

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

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 railways, has a history of acquiring troubled companies and turning them around. Total sales in 1994-95 were C$5.9bn (pounds 3bn). The aerospace business - which includes regional jets, executive and commuter aircraft such as the Canadair RJ and Challenger, de Havilland Dash 8 and LearJet - had sales of about C$3bn.

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 Fokker went into receivership and aircraft were put on the market at reduced prices.

It had been thought the aircraft production unit would stay airborne without creditor protection as Daimler had guaranteed the delivery of previously ordered Fokker planes.

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