Andrew Doyle/MUNICH


Boeing aims to boost sales of its 717 regional jet by taking a role in maintenance support and certificating a "Lite" version that could cut airport and navigation charges for airlines.

The move comes as Greek flag carrier Olympic signs as the type's first European airline operator. Its wholly owned low-cost domestic subsidiary, Olympic Aviation, will lease two aircraft from Bavaria International Aircraft Leasing of Germany from December.

Boeing wants to offer 717 customers "turnkey" maintenance support packages in conjunction with third party providers. The manufacturer has signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with a company in Europe and another in the USA, according to 717 product marketing director Rolf Sellge. MoUs are pending with three other organisations, including UK-based FLS Aerospace.

Sellge says the service is aimed primarily at smaller airlines, and Boeing will act as a contract "facilitator" between the airline and the maintenance provider.

"The airline will know that the provider has access to spares, training for its mechanics and some kind of Boeing oversight," says Sellge. He declines to comment on whether Boeing will help fund the development of 717 support infrastructure, although this is believed to be under consideration.

Sellge says the move is not directly related to the launch of the rival Airbus A318, with its high degree of parts commonality with the A320 family. "We had been working on this long before the A318 was on the horizon," he says.

Meanwhile, the 717-200 "Lite" would involve a paper recertification reducing maximum take-off weight (MTOW) to just below 50t, from the 51.8t version in flight test.

Range would drop from 2,590km (1,400nm) to 1,500km, although Sellge says this would be enough to meet the requirements of 90% of potential customers.

Airlines would save on navigation and landing charges in Europe and the USA, which drop significantly for aircraft with an MTOW below 50t. There would be no changes to the aircraft, except for the possible electronic derating of the BMW Rolls-Royce BR715 powerplants to extend on-wing life.

"It's an artificial lowering of the MTOW by not putting as much fuel in the aircraft," says Sellge. The option could be on offer to airlines "within a couple of months", he adds. The 717 already weighs significantly less than the A318, essentially a shrink version of the much larger A320.

Bavaria International managing director Karsten Sensen says Olympic will lease its 717s for an initial period of five years. It plans to operate up to ten 100-seat aircraft within the next three years as it tries to fend off increasing competition from rivals in the recently deregulated domestic market. The aircraft are likely to be purchased and leased.

Source: Flight International