Manufacturer says other customers, including US majors, are interested in stretch model

Boeing is confident that it can still build a stretched 717 even if the twinjet is rejected by the Star Alliance partners to meet their needs for a new 100-130 seater. The manufacturer says there is interest in the larger model from other customers including two US majors.

The proposed 128-seat 717-300X has been pitched to the Star airlines Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and Scandinavian Airlines as part of an offer which includes the existing 106-seat 717-200 to meet the group's combined requirement for 100 regional aircraft in the 70- to 130-seat category. The airlines are seeking deals for aircraft built to a common specification, but with flexibility in the cabin configuration. Boeing is up against Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer in the competition.

Speaking at last week's European Regions Airline Association general assembly in Dublin, 717 programme general manager Jim Phillips said the Star requirement should be enough to launch the stretched aircraft, but the airlines look likely to split the deal between two suppliers to cover all their needs across the entire size range.

"It depends on how they split the order, with their 70-seat requirement - we may have to revisit our calculations," he says. A decision by some or all the Star carriers is expected by late this year or early next, he adds: "We may see one or two of the partners go with the configuration first, but that will set the choice for the others."

Austrian Airlines chief executive Vagn Sorensen says Star has told the four manufacturers to submit best and final offers by the end of the year and again hinted that any order might be divided between two suppliers.

"We are approaching the end phase of the process," says Sorensen, who heads the Star working group co-ordinating the initiative. "It's not 100% given that we will choose one manufacturer. It might be that it is split."

Of the four airlines involved, Air Canada is likely to be the first to place an order, possibly this year, he adds.

Although the Star requirement is the main focus for the 717-300X at the moment, Phillips says several other airlines are showing interest. "Northwest has 160 DC-9s and is looking at replacements. It needs an aircraft in the 717-200 and -300X size category."

Phillips adds that the 717-300X has also been examined by Delta Air Lines as part of the airline's long-term study into a Boeing 737-200 replacement. It would need around 50 aircraft.

Meanwhile, Spanish flag carrier Iberia is looking at the 717 family as a possible replacement for its 24 Boeing MD-87s.


Source: Flight International