The Netherlands: Profitable Friendship

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For more than a decade, half the world's aircraft manufacturers have been struggling to develop a latter-day replacement for the traditional workhorse of the airways, Douglas Aircraft's 26-year-old DC-3. The planemaker that has come closest is Royal Netherlands Fokker Aircraft, whose sleek, twin-turboprop F-27 Friendship is now used by 36 airlines spanning all six continents.

An Assist for the Kaiser. Fokker's past is not all friendship. The company was founded in 1913 in Germany by a ruthless, conniving aircraft designer named Anthony Fokker, who shucked off his allegiance to The Netherlands to build military aircraft for the Kaiser. Baron von Richthofen and his Flying Circus battled to fame in Fokker triplanes. After Germany's defeat, Anthony Fokker slipped back into The Netherlands, taking along six trainloads of tools and aircraft parts, and set up a new plant. His dependable F-VII monoplane spawned the rise of commercial airlines in the 1920s; it was in a modified F-VII that Admiral Byrd made his historic flight over the North Pole.

Anthony Fokker died in 1939, and four years later Allied bombers reduced the Fokker plant to ruins. After the war, Fokker executives shepherded the remnants of the company's work force together and began to rebuild. Helped by a $7,000,000 loan from the Dutch government. Fokker introduced in 1958 its first postwar airliner, the F27. Powered by Rolls-Royce Dart engines, the F-27 (price $700,000) carries from 40 to 52 passengers, cruises at 300 m.p.h. It has a maximum range of 1,270 miles and an enviable safety record of only three crashes—all due to pilot error. So far, Fokker has sold 256 F275 to customers in 25 countries, including 93 made under license in the U.S. by the Fairchild Stratos Corp.

The Monday President. Fokker is run by a troika of joint managing directors: Frits Diepen, 47 (sales and service); Hein During, 58 (finance and administration); Egbert van Emden, 47 (production and development). "Every Monday morning," says Diepen, "we sit down together and are the president." But having three pilots has not stunted Fokker's growth. Its sales have been steadily rising despite The Netherlands' severe labor shortage, are now running at an estimated $125 million a year.

Currently, Fokker has a bulging backlog, including orders to build under license from Lockheed 350 F-104 Starfighters for the Dutch and West German air forces. The company is also developing a vertical-takeoff supersonic bomber, in conjunction with Republic Aviation, which two years ago acquired one-third of Fokker's stock. But Fokker's chief hope for the future lies in building a jet successor to the F27. Already in wind-tunnel tests are models of the short-haul twin-jet F-28, which would cruise at 500 m.p.h. and carry 44 to 60 passengers. To appeal to underdeveloped countries where flying is booming, Fokker has designed the plane to be cheap, rugged, and simple to operate. "The underdeveloped countries will hurdle directly from DC-35 to jets," predicts one Fokker expert. Fokker hopes they will hurdle into the F-28.