Douglas Aircraft's MD-95 and MD-11 freighter programmes are expected to survive the merger with Boeing when the new company announces production details in November.

AirTran Airlines, formerly known as ValuJet, remains the sole customer for the MD-95 but says it expects to take all 50 aircraft on order, as well as exercising its 50 options - deliveries begin in mid-1999.

Boeing says it will honour the AirTran contract and is 'moving forward' with the MD-95 programme. This reverses earlier suggestions that it didn't fit into a Boeing-McDonnell Douglas family; the aircraft appears to have found a niche at the smaller end of the combined product line.

Although the MD-95 has no commonality with Boeing products, it does offer a relatively cheap way to reach the regional jet market with an 80-seat variant. Embraer has already stated that it will not launch a 70-seat regional jet if Boeing is a competitor in the market.

The only other likely survivor from the Douglas line is the MD-11 freighter, which has continued to sell despite the drought of orders for the passenger variant. Douglas says a decision will hinge on whether freighter demand is met from converting passenger MD-11s. The future of the MD-80/90 programme, however, remains uncertain.

Meanwhile, Boeing is slowing B737 production and has placed a 20-day freeze on the B747 line in an effort to cut its backlog. Production has increased from 18 to 40 aircraft a month over the past 18 months and the company has been struggling to secure parts on time. Boeing hopes the slow-down will give suppliers breathing space to return to schedule.

Source: Airline Business