Guy Norris/SEATTLE

Boeing is studying the use of its Long Beach division in California to specialise in major modification and retrofit work as well as 717 and Next Generation 737 assembly.

Decisions on future work at Long Beach are still to be finalised, but Boeing Commercial president Alan Mulally says: "It is a good operation and we are looking at some major modification work down there."

Mulally says the work could include retrofit programmes "-like insulation blankets and other big items coming up".

Although he will not comment on other specific programmes, such as possible passenger to freighter conversions, Mulally says Boeing "-will continue to invest in those assets".

Production work at the Long Beach site is now scheduled to cease in 2000 on the MD-80 and MD-90 twinjets, as well as the MD-11 tri-jet. The only commercial production programme certain to remain is the 717-200. "We have no plans to do the 717 anywhere else," says Mulally.

The slowdown in the setting up of the Next Generation 737 line at Long Beach - originally scheduled for last month - was done "-because we wanted to focus on delivering the current aircraft on order". Final decisions are still to be made on increasing production capacity, Mulally adds.

"We have to think about how much capacity we need to go forward. We have it in the plan to start another line on the Next Generation 737 in the first quarter of next year - after we get back on production schedule here."

Boeing says there is "the possibility of a substantial retrofit programme" for aircraft insulation blankets, but adds that the true scope of the requirement "-is hard to tell at this point".

The US Federal Aviation Administration is now developing new criteria for blanket flammability requirements. Early indications are that some aircraft that were built with non-metallised Mylar blankets may require retrofit.

In other areas, Mulally's prime focus remains on meeting Boeing's delivery target of 550 commercial aircraft by the end of 1998. "Clearly it's a challenge to deliver 550 aircraft in one year," he says. "We've never done that, but we have a good chance of achieving it. The only issue is the financing, particularly with the Asian carriers."

Most of the 36 aircraft in storage at the end of the third quarter were Asian-ordered and needed financing. Mulally hopes this will be down to "between 11 and 15" by the year-end, and will be over and above the 550 aircraft delivered. "We're trying to say 550 is not just aircraft produced, it is 550 delivered."

With three months to go, Boeing had 180 aircraft - including two C-32A (757)s for the US Air Force - still due for delivery. This represents an average delivery rate of about 60 a month, and the company is thought to have delivered 75 by mid-November.

"We were within two deliveries of target at the end of last month," says Mulally, "and by now we are back on schedule for the first time in one and a half years."

Source: Flight International