The DO228 is ideally suited for small landing areas such as islands. In order to ensure quality, it is now being built again in Oberpfaffenhofen. Photo: General Atomics AeroTec Systems General Atomics AeroTec Systems ©
With the resumption of the Dornier DO228, aircraft production returns to the Oberpfaffenhofen site. It's just a small series. But their importance should not be underestimated.
Oberpfaffenhofen - Externally, the halls have hardly changed, but a new company logo is emblazoned on the large factory hall at the Oberpfaffenhofen special airport. Once upon a time it was Dornier. Most recently, the halls belonged to the Swiss conglomerate RUAG. Now there is the name General Atomics AeroTec Systems. Under this umbrella, the company wants to build on a great tradition in aircraft construction.
"It was planned from the beginning to resume production," says Florian Rohe, the operational managing director of General Atomics AeroTec Systems responsible for Oberpfaffenhofen. Although the aircraft type is 40 years old, it is by no means outdated. It only has up to 19 passenger seats. And the narrow trunk allows only very small people to stand upright. But if you move forward, you will find a very tidy cockpit with sensibly arranged control panels. No comparison with the chaos that some airliners offer.
The DO228 is very popular with many pilots
But the exemplary order is only one reason why many pilots around the world appreciate the DO228, says Steffen Gemsa, who has been flying the aircraft for 23 years along with many others. On the one hand, there is the cruising performance: 240 knots in aviation correspond to around 450 kilometers per hour. With seven hours without refueling, you can reach almost any destination in Europe non-stop from Bavaria. "Munich–Heraklion – no problem," says Gemsa.
And then there are the short take-off and landing characteristics: An experienced pilot could even bring the aircraft to a standstill on the runway, which is only 408 meters long, at Jesenwang airfield (Fürstenfeldbruck district). This is a place that is not even approved for aircraft of this size. No comparable aircraft in the world offers this combination of desirable characteristics. This makes the DO228 interesting for some itineraries. For example, in Japan, in order to be able to fly to islands with small airfields and low traffic volumes.
DO228 used by the military, border guards and rescue operations
Around 60 percent, says Florian Rohe, are not intended for the private sector. These include airspace security, border protection, environmental monitoring, medical evacuation flights, search and rescue operations and research purposes. The Italian military or the German navy have the DO228 in service. And hardly anyone can replace it with other machines. The former owner RUAG was also aware of this and tried to relaunch the coveted aircraft. Since the aircraft was built under license in India, it was obvious to adopt the fuselages built there. But this turned out to be a serious mistake. Deliveries from India fell far short of customers' quality requirements. Elaborate rework was too expensive.
General Atomics AeroTec Systems wants to avoid this and relies on other partners. "The supplier parts now come from France," says Florian Rohe. And the wings are a core competence in Oberpfaffenhofen anyway. They are considered a reason for the success of the aircraft. All production facilities for this are still in place. And so do some employees from the Dornier era. Around 350 people are currently involved in maintenance, modernization or painting work at the site, says Florian Rohe.
200 employees work on the DO228 in Oberpfaffenhofen
However, the maintenance business is challenging due to the fluctuating order situation. This is one of the reasons why the focus is on the new production of DO228, the core topic in Oberpfaffenhofen for the next few years. Around 200 employees are to be deployed for the new construction of the aircraft in the future. General Atomics AeroTec Systems is likely to be the third-largest employer at the special airport after RUAG and DLR.
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The quantities remain modest, it is produced in small series. General Atomics Aerotec Systems expects demand for "about five to eight aircraft a year". This falls far short of the quantities from the Dornier years before the bankruptcy. But at least new aircraft are being built at the traditional aviation location in the west of Munich. They are comparatively small and intended for a manageable market, but they are the best in the world in their class.