Boeing is stepping up its sales campaign for the 717-200 in North America and is negotiating possible "walk-away" deals with Air Canada as anxiety grows internally over the lack of new orders for the small twinjet.

Boeing declines to comment on specific campaigns, but Air Canada confirms that "-Boeing is aggressively marketing its new 717 here". The airline cautions that it is not "-evaluating the aircraft, but we are waiting for the right conditions before going any further".

The carrier, which is seeking a long-term replacement for its 25 McDonnell Douglas (MDC) DC-9-30s, says that, "-given the right conditions, we would consider evaluating the 717". The new twinjet, which until January was dubbed the MD-95, is effectively a new generation development of the MDC twinjet.

Boeing is expected to face stiff opposition from Airbus with its proposed A319M5 - a shortened variant of the A319 - as Air Canada already operates some 69 examples of the Airbus narrowbodies, including 35 A319s and 34 A320s.

To counter Airbus' perceived advantage of commonality and other unspecified marketing moves, Boeing is understood to be considering negotiating a "walk-away" deal with Air Canada. This is based on the sales concept used in the early 1980s by McDonnell Douglas to stimulate sales of the slow-selling MD-80. Fewer than 100 MD-80s were sold in the five years following programme launch in 1977 until MDC offered "walk-away" terms to American Airlines on the MD-83. American was given total flexibility to take as many aircraft as it wanted, but was not tied to specific numbers under a conventional sales contract.

Both manufacturers are in a pitched battle for a potentially much larger order from Northwest Airlines, but this is now expected to become a more drawn out campaign, given the US carrier's labour problems. An announcement had been tipped for the forthcoming Farnborough show in the UK in early September, but this is now likely to slip. The Northwest campaign is still considered a land-mark deal as it also involves the potential launch of Pratt & Whitney's PW6000 turbofan on the A319M5, if selected.

Meanwhile, Boeing is confident that firm 717-200 sales will soon grow from the 55 now booked. "I would hope we have some sales in the next few months," says Boeing Commercial Airplane Group president, Ron Woodard. "People are waiting to see if it really flies. Nobody has to move, but once it's getting close to lead time, they'll get interested," he predicts.

Source: Flight International