How crisis takes down aircraft manufacturer: Fokker story
If you were to turn back the clock 100 years, the aviation industry would look very different. The duopoly that we know and love today, would be missing one of its members, namely Airbus. Boeing would still be in its infancy, as William E. Boeing established the company, then-called Pacific Aero Products in 1916. The commercial aviation market itself would be very limited, as not a lot of airlines were even operating at the time. However, some familiar names, including Avianca, British Airways’ predecessors, KLM and Qantas, were already grazing the skies.
And one manufacturer was particularly dominant at the time: Fokker. The Amsterdam-based company was regarded as one of the largest aircraft builders, as the company established in 1919 was pumping out aircraft left and right, including commercial and military planes. The predecessor to the now-bankrupt manufacturer, Fokker Aeroplanbau, based in Germany, famously built the Fokker Dr.I triplane, which became associated with the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen.
However, at the end of the day, all that history could not save the company and on March 15, 1997, Fokker declared its bankruptcy, officially ending the story of the planemaker. While other units of the company, which were responsible for aircraft maintenance and the manufacturing of certain components, have survived up until this day as Fokker Technologies, the manufacturer that was responsible for such aircraft as the F27, F50, F70 and F100 was no more.
So, how did Fokker’s story end?
The Fellowship of the aircraft
After the two world wars have passed, Fokker established itself as a manufacturer of small, regional aircraft. Its first attempt to build an aircraft suited for the post-war market was a relatively successful one. The Fokker F27 Friendship, which was able to carry up to 60 passengers, was very successful, as 592 units were sold before the last F27 left Fokker’s factory doors in 1986. The F27 allowed Fokker to develop its first commercial jetliner, the F28 Fellowship.
The Fellowship was not strong, though. It first flew in 1967 and only gathered 241 orders in total, putting the company under immense financial pressure. The pressure was further increased by an unsuccessful joint venture with Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW), a Germany-based manufacturer. The two companies collaborated on a regional jetliner, the VFW-Fokker 614. However, with only 19 sold units, the relationship became messy: the VFW 614 was canceled in 1977 and three years later, the two companies went their separate ways.
At that point in time, Fokker was in turbulent air, despite being a profitable company in both 1979 and 1980 with a net income of $1.9 and $3.9 million, respectively, as reported by the New York Times. It needed to come up with a solution as sales for its commercial airliners started to dwindle.
McDonnell Douglas and Fokker working on MDF100
And search for solutions Fokker did: the Dutch firm planned to collaborate with McDonnell Douglas to develop the MDF100, a derivative of the F29, another conceptual project that the manufacturer planned to launch. However, the two projects never materialized. Despite the Dutch Government pleading to provide a huge chunk of the financing for a state-of-the-art jet, Fokker needed a partner to go ahead with the jetliner – a crucial circumstance if the Dutch Government were to go ahead with the $711 million aid package to develop a new aircraft.
It seemed like the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed between McDonnell Douglas and Fokker in May 1981, was the first nail in Fokker’s coffin. The Dutch company walked away from the agreement just a year later and focused on the joint development on two new aircraft instead: the 100-seater F100 and a turboprop replacement for its cash cow, the F27 Friendship, the F50. The manufacturer would develop the two alone, without any partnerships involved.
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