Fokker's hopes perk up as groups talk

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The Independent Online

Fokker's chances of survival improved last night after several companies, including British Aerospace and Bombardier, said they were talking to the ailing Dutch aircraft maker

Bombardier, the Canadian company that owns Shorts Brothers in Belfast, said it was "just exploring" the situation with Fokker. BAe's interest is via the AIR regional jet partnership it formed with France's Aerospatiale and Italy's Alenia.

AIR has always said it wanted to broaden the alliance, though a BAe spokesman said its contact with Fokker could not be described as negotiations. "We are just keeping up with the situation," he said. "It has been done through AIR. It is entirely exploratory."

Nevertheless, reports that the chances of a rescue were rising sparked a flurry of activity in Fokker shares, which rose more than one guilder to 4.50 (pounds 1.82).

South Korea's Samsung also said it was talking to Fokker, and the Taiwanese government is believed to be interested in all or part of the company.

Ben van Shaik, Fokker's chairman, said at the Singapore Aerospace Show yesterday, that the company's future looked brighter now than last month when its owner Daimler Benz withdrew financial support. "We have a good relationship with British Aerospace and Aerospatiale and we are talking to them."

AIR was formed to market the three companies' regional jet businesses and reduce gross overcapacity in the market. Fokker jets compete directly against BAe's, and analysts said the Dutch company would not be allowed into the group before huge restructuring.

Shorts Brothers makes the wings for Fokker-70 and 100 jets, and the company said last month that up to 1,500 jobs were at risk. Michel Lord, Bombardier's spokesman, said: "We want to know exactly what they are looking for, and what the exact situation is." John Widen, for Fokker, said the talks were "about participation of Bombardier in taking Fokker over".

Baroness Jean Denton, economic affairs spokeswoman at the Northern Ireland office, visited Dutch officials at the Hague yesterday to talk about the Fokker crisis. A UK official said it was a fact-finding visit.

Meanwhile, at the Singapore exhibition, Rolls-Royce's incoming chief executive, John Rose, said yesterday he expected Asia to account for 30 per cent of revenue by 2000.

Mr Rose also confirmed Rolls was in joint venture talks with Singapore Airlines.