Douglas Products division is optimistic that Boeing will clear continued develop- ment of derivatives and production of the MD-95 in January, after the development of a series of cost-saving initiatives by the manufacturer and its risk-sharing partners.

Boeing is due to decide whether to proceed with the MD-95 family following an announcement in November that this would hinge on the successful reduction of costs at "all levels" throughout the programme. Although the US company has declined to comment, it is believed to have targeted a unit price of $18 million for the standard 100-seat -30, while the proposed 80-seater would be priced as low as $16 million.

Following its take-over of McDonnell Douglas in August, Boeing completed a product-strategy analysis which, for the time being, committed it only to production of the initial 50 aircraft on firm order from AirTran Airlines, formerly ValuJet Airlines. The January decision will cover continued production of the MD-95-30 model, and its extended-range option - as well as the key development of the shorter, 80-seat, regional-jet derivative - as part of a family extending up to a larger 120- seat two-class version.

"We can see ways of improving production," says Gary Roberts, director of MD-95 final assembly. These include lean-manufacturing and integrated-assembly techniques. Roberts says that it is still "-a bit early to tell exactly what benefits will come out".

The cost-saving initiatives are based largely on increasing efficiency at the Long Beach assembly site in California and at the various programme partners around the world. Boeing specialists are advising these companies, which have also sent representatives to Douglas to help with the assembly of the first five aircraft. As well as lean manufacturing, Douglas also hopes to cut costs by using techniques such as laser alignment to improve first-time assembly quality and reduce manufacturing time and re-work.

The company also "intends to develop on the floor, ship-side support in production", he adds. Using this method, engineers from various disciplines are available to troubleshoot problems in real time and cut down production span-time, further trimming assembly costs and reducing expensive re-work.

Douglas is on schedule to complete assembly of the first aircraft in May 1998 - in time for the first flight, set for June. Joint European and US certification is planned for June 1999. The first MD-95 will be delivered to AirTran in 1999.

Douglas is also laying out plans to extend the MD-95 assembly line at the Long Beach site as the MD-90 line runs down in advance of its eventual termination.

Source: Flight International