Swedish-American plane plans a spring landing in US market

Sweden's Saab-Scania will soon be swooping down on the American market. By spring of 1984, the first deliveries will be made of the Saab-Fairchild SF 340 aircraft. This 34-seat, twin-engine turboprop commuter and corporate airliner is the result of a joint effort by the Swedes and the Maryland-based Fairchild Industries.

''We hope to capture 25 percent of the world market for commuter aircraft'' in the SF-340's size and range category, says Thomas Turner, a US citizen who is president and chief executive officer of the Saab-Fairchild Joint Venture. The company already has about 90 aircraft on order. To reach their market goal means selling some 400 aircraft by the end of the century, according to officials of Saab-Scania's Aerospace Division. Three prototypes are now being flown in extensive tests to iron out technical problems.

US customers who have ordered the aircraft include Comair, Air Midwest, Mellon Bank, and Philip Morris. While the commuter airline market is potentially the largest, Mr. Turner is happiest about the corporate orders. ''We've been given the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. These blue chip companies have given us an OK,'' he said, explaining that the well-publicized sales meant other corporate aviation departments would be more likely to buy the SF-340.

Both corporate customers will be replacing turbojets, a sign that they have been sold on the speed, fuel efficiency, and quick turnaround capability that Saab-Fairchild claims for its new plane.

For Saab-Scania, a company that mainly makes cars and trucks, but was founded as Sweden's only aviation company in the late 1930s, the SF-340 is a dream delayed.

In the late 1940s, as World War II ended, it appeared neutral Sweden would not require Saab's full production and development capacity. Saab started two civilian projects - a passenger car that flourished along with a truck business the company acquired in the '70s, and a 35-passenger civilian airliner called the Scandia.

The Scandia was shelved after the Swedish government pressured the company to devote full attention the development and building of military jets. As a result , Sweden entered the jet age almost at the same time as the major world powers.

Mr. Turner thinks the experience of being the backbone of Sweden's neutral and independent military aviation industry is largely behind the company's ability to build a new-generation commuter aircraft ahead of its competitors.

''There is a definite spinoff. The technology gained from the Drakens, the Viggens, and the Lansens (all Swedish jet fighters) is the foundation they are working from,'' Mr. Turner says.

Saab Aerospace officials point out that one of the new technologies being used both in Swedish combat aircraft and the SF-340 is light carbon-fiber composites to replace heavier metal parts. Carbon-fiber composites will be used in parts such as the nose cone of the SF-340 and the wings of Sweden's new multirole Gripen combat plane. The fuselage of the SF-340 is bonded with adhesives rather than riveted or welded, which reduces the risk of cracks and metal fatigue.

Swedish Air Force planes have been designed for extremely quick turnaround, if need be, from stretches of highway. While the SF-340 won't be dropping commuters off at the curb on American Interstate highways, Mr. Turner says that it must fly ''10 times a day, seven days a week'' in many commuter networks.

The Saab-Fairchild Joint Venture also brings jobs for Americans. The wings and landing gear of the aircraft are manufactured at Fairchild's plant in Farmingdale, L.I. Fairchild Aircraft of San Antonio will market the corporate version of the plane in the United States, while Saab-Fairchild International was recently formed with headquarters near Heathrow Airport in London to market the commuter version internationally.

Mr. Turner explains that in developing the aircraft from scratch starting in 1979, the American partner contributed its knowledge of the commuter market, where Saab-Scania had very little experience, as well as the American company's Fairchild-Republic subsidiary's history of ''building aircraft of all types and being aggressively involved in the market.''

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