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Like A Phoenix

The corporate Dornier 328Jet and turboprop rise from the ashes.

As they say: ‘You can’t keep a good man down.’ Over the years this has been proved true for some civil aircraft types as well. The Fairchild Dornier 328 regional turboprops for sale are classic examples- with both types now making a resurgence as luxury VIP 12-14 seaters- 19 seat corporate shuttles- and in the U.S. particularly- as Part 135- 32 seater charter aircraft.

   Despite two bankruptcies in three years – to previous owners Fairchild Dornier and AvCraft GmbH – and a U.S. airline recession of biblical proportions- the ’328 has not only survived but is now much sought after- even though it is out of production at the moment. Roughly a year ago there were 80 (328 turboprop and 328Jet types) parked in desert bone yards- and airports in the U.S. and Europe; today there are virtually none. In February 2006- newly-formed- Germany-based 328 Support Services GmbH announced it had partnered with GCT Design Organization GmbH to take over full aircraft type responsibility- for both aircraft models- and soon after a major upturn in the 328’s fortune occurred. Since then confidence has grown to the extent that the 328Jet could even go back into production- “but not by us-” says Wolfgang Walter- CEO of 328 Support Services.

   “I think this [buy-out of AvCraft assets from the German receiver] was the turning point- because if we had not done this then there would not have been an engineering support/design organization to back the fleet-” reflected Walter. “We hold the type certificate and this sent the signal to operators that this is not a dying program. I was overwhelmed by the interest and response shown at the recent Dornier 328 Operators’ Conference.”

   In a unique arrangement GCT acquired the design organization authority (DOA) for the 328Jet and turboprop- while 328 Support Services is the aircraft type certificate holder. Both companies are based at the Dornier factory airfield site at Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich. 328 Support Services is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southampton (UK) - based Corporate Jet Services Ltd- which is also parent to business jet charter operator Club328- and JETS- the aircraft maintenance and support organization.

   The total past production run for both ’328 models was 106 turboprops and 105 328Jets- totaling 211. The total ‘airworthy’ world fleet- as of November 2006- according to Walter- was 83 turboprops and 91 jets- totaling 174. Given the demand that is around- he reckons a new production run of just the ’328Jet alone could require over 400 aircraft.

   Walter says he is currently at an advanced negotiating stage- with an Asian government- to buy the rights to manufacture the aircraft- but as yet won’t release the country’s identity. The country might well be India- as HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.) took over total production of the Dornier 228- a 19 seat twin turboprop commuter aircraft- back in 1996.

   Before its demise as an aircraft manufacturer- Fairchild Dornier had planned to produce corporate versions of what turned out to be a still-born family of small/large size regional jets. The company named the corporate version Envoy- with the 328Jet becoming the Envoy3- the slightly larger 428 was to have been the Envoy4 etc.- all the way up to the Embraer 190-sized Fairchild Dornier 928. The only ‘family member’ to make it to production was the 32 seat Dornier 328Jet regional jet- and the only other model was the 728 which achieved a prototype status- made roll-out- but never flew.    “An awful lot of water has gone under the bridge and it’s a true testament to the product itself-” according to Mike Hill- general manager of AvCraft Support Services based at Myrtle Beach- South Carolina- which specializes in refurbishing- maintaining and completing both the business jets for sale and turboprop models.


   “Eventually the value of these aircraft got pretty low and they became marketable again-” explained Hill. “Buyers had a very low initial capital outlay on them.”
   In 2002 the factory list price for a brand new 32 seat 328Jet regional jet was around $11.9 million and around $12.9 million for a completed Envoy3. Some insiders reckon that these figures dropped by as much as two-thirds for the 328 turboprop as the market bottomed out. 

Fast movers
Both 328 Support and AvCraft Support in the US essentially share the same objective - to get all potentially airworthy 328s back into the air- earning revenue from either regional airline operations or corporate aviation activity. Both companies are well on the way to achieving this.

   In the States- Hill says- “Most of the grounded fleet has now found buyers- and corporate versions of the turboprop 328 really took off first- with 328Jet conversions following shortly afterwards.

   “We’ve already converted three 328 turboprops and two 328Jets to 19 seat corporate shuttles- and have another in the hangar at the moment. Most of our business has been refurbishing them to FAR Part 135 charter operations. I am in contractual negotiation for two VIP 12 seat (Envoy) aircraft to be fitted with associated cabinetry- in-flight entertainment systems- etc.- and if we get this job it will be our first for this class of aircraft.”

   The links between 328 Support in Germany and AvCraft Support in the U.S. are very good commented Hill- who had recently got back from a trip to meet with Wolfgang Walter. Hill explained- “We were part of the original AvCraft company and a service center for the 328- even though we’re not part of their organization [328 Support Services] now- I think our relationship is still very much along those lines. We’re very co-operative with each other.

   “We are a Part 145 Repair Station and the 328 is the only aircraft on our certificate. We do on-call maintenance for the airlines that operate here but we’re not a scheduled maintenance provider.”

   Hill explained that 30 of the 32 ex-Atlantic Coast Airlines 328Jets were stored at Myrtle Beach for a time- after being removed from service by ACA. “A lot of them were refurbished here. Now there are just four Jets remaining plus another three turboprops. When you take 32 328Jets inside a year- and 28 of them have been placed- that shows there is significant interest.

   “The same is true of the turboprops; we’ve re-generated 12 or more of them in the last year and half- which included new interiors- external paint and overhaul and maintenance. We’ve done quite a few of the Scandinavian based Sun-Air regional aircraft- and also some for a South American operator. It’s a mix of returning to airline use- and for Part 135 charter operations.”

   Wolfgang Walter commented- “I never thought that those parked aircraft would move so quickly- in just one year of our operation”.

   At 328 Support Services at Oberpfaffenhofen- the company is completing previously stored 328Jets to service. The first to be completed- was modified to achieve FL350 and to incorporate the SFAR 88 extended range fuel modification. This fuel modification is central to the Envoy3’s success. The new externally conforming longer-range fuel tanks replace the fairings on the upper fuselage forward and aft of the wing.

   “This doesn’t change the airflow over the wing- or impact the aircraft’s center of gravity-” said Walter. “We’ve completed about eight of them so far.” The interior of this first aircraft was modified as a 19 seat corporate shuttle. It went to Club328 at Southampton- and has since joined IceJet’s Reykjavik- Iceland-based fleet. 328 Support not only fits corporate interiors but manufactures them as well. The next- a 14 seat Envoy3- entered service with IceJet in November 2006.

Delighted Customers
IceJet started operations with a 14-seat 328 Envoy in September last year. Icejet added another 19-seater corporate shuttle in November- flying on ad hoc charter flights from Iceland. In the pipeline for IceJet are three more 328 Envoys all of them will be configured as 14 seat Envoy3s- with the third possibly as a 19 seater corporate shuttle. Deliveries are scheduled for May- June and possibly July this year.

   Jón Ingi Jónsson- IceJet MD- says the current plan is to base one of his new aircraft in Europe. “If we don’t sell them on- I can see myself placing three of our aircraft in the UK. We see a massive potential for these aircraft.”

   IceJet is the only ad hoc executive jet charter operator in Iceland- and business is coming mainly from Iceland’s financial sector. “They are the Icelanders who are buying everything up in the UK and other countries-” joked Jónsson. He says that he is picking up leisure market bookings as well- and recently completed a very successful three week promotion tour ferrying international operatic pop vocal group Il Divo all around Europe. “The Envoy is ideal for this with its spacious and very comfortable cabin and the aircraft’s ability to carry a max baggage of 750kg. They are perfect for the European corporate aviation market.”

   “So you might well see one of IceJet’s aircraft at May’s EBACE- parked between a Gulfstream 550 and a Falcon 7X to make the point of the aircraft’s wide body potential-” quipped Jónsson.

   Wolfgang Walter says that he was surprised by the enormous interest in the 328 turboprop and jet. He remarked that there had been a lot of movement of parked 328s in the US- as brokers who bought them were now discussing modifications and upgrades to re-sell them into Europe and the US.

   “The biggest surprise-” Walter said- “Were the high numbers of aircraft bought by companies. A big operator in San Antonio- Texas- has purchased 15 aircraft for sale- a mix of jets and business turboprop aircraft for sale. We are discussing with- and advising them on possible modifications- whether it be the extra fuel tankage or steep approach aircraft modification. Some of these aircraft will be re-worked as corporate jets.”
   He also emphasizes the fact that corporate conversions of both aircraft have been around for some time- with Johnson Controls of Milwaukee taking delivery of the first corporate shuttle six or seven years ago.

   Southampton executive jet operator Club328- meantime- markets its 15 seat 328Jet as the Space Jet. The company’s newly appointed managing director- Elaine Young- says she plans to add a 328Jet Envoy3 to her fleet each year for the next three years. “I have been searching for suitable candidates recently-” said Young.

   Danish regional operator Sun-Air has the largest 328Jet and turboprop mixed fleet in Europe- and will have 18 aircraft in place later this year. One of a batch of three ex-Delta Connection machines may be fitted in VIP/executive configuration.

   “There is nothing really that compares with the 328 in this segment. We are very pleased with its performance and reliability- and the passenger feedback is overwhelmingly positive-” concluded Jesper Lundberg- assistant managing director- Sun-Air.

WHY OPT FOR THE 328? Dornier’s 328 family have a wide cabin- which is only about two inches narrower than that of a Gulfstream IV and Bombardier Challenger. They have 6’2” of headroom which is the same as the Gulfstream business jets for sale- and one inch higher than the Challengers. The aircraft are economical to operate- and have a quiet luxurious cabin. Many cite the aircrafts’ regional airline ancestry as the key to its reliability to fly daily multi-segment legs.

   With the latest fuel modification the 328Jet has a range of 2-100 nm- and can also be modified to allow 5.5 degree steep approach operations. Possibly the aircraft’s only drawbacks are that it is slower than the competition and doesn’t fly as high as some. But it is a lot cheaper to acquire than any comparable widebody twin turbofan.

   Because of their regional airline roots- 328s were designed to carry 750kg of baggage in a capacious hold which makes them ideal as corporate aircraft. The cost of a VIP interior- with the latest in-flight entertainment- from AvCraft Support Services is quoted at around $1.5 million. This price also includes cargo hold and cockpit refurbishment- as well as an external paint job. Extended fuel system and 5.5 degree approach modifications are extra and only available from 328 Support Services in Germany.

   The resurgence and increasing popularity of these widebody twins was partly down to their rock bottom prices (a year ago) and charter operators recognizing their potential as 12-14 seat corporate jets and 19 seat corporate shuttles.


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