McDonnell Douglas (MDC) hopes to conduct final negotiations at the Paris air show with potential MD-95-30 customers as production of the first twinjet moves into final assembly.

"Our timing is good because we want to place orders 21 months before delivery," says MD-95 vice- president and general manager Jim Phillips. "There are 12 aircraft scheduled to be built in 1999 and we have four open positions at the end of that year that need to be spoken for by the end of 1997."

MDC confirms that UK regional airline Debonair is "-a very high prospect for us". Phillips adds: "We have not completed a sale, but we have high interest from them and we are having further discussions at Paris."

Debonair says that it has received an offer from MDC, regarding a possible order for ten MD-95s, plus five options. It does not envisage that the firm order will be finalised in the immediate future. If the deal is concluded, Debonair will be only the second customer for the MD-95 after US low-cost airline ValuJet, which launched the programme with orders and options for 100.

"There is also a large contingent of others which are, frankly, waiting for the merger with Boeing to be completed," says Phillips, who is confident that the MD-95 is not threatened by the looming Boeing take-over. "The merger will be positive for the employees and the company, and we will see long-term support for new MDC products," he adds.

While speculation continues over the fate of the MD-95 after the merger, MDC is working hard at final assembly of the first aircraft.

The main undercarriage was fitted in the second week of June and the aircraft will be "on rubber" by the end of the month, says Phillips. The structurally complete aircraft is then due to have its remaining hydraulic-system piping, electrical wiring, flight controls, flightdeck instrumentation and air-conditioning ducting installed before undergoing functional testing in "early autumn". The airframe will then be structurally validated with a pressure test, considered to be the next major hurdle after the system tests are completed.

The first shipset of BMW Rolls-Royce BR715 turbofans is scheduled to arrive at subcontractor Rohr's San Diego site in California in October, where they will be fitted with thrust reversers and nose cowls. The engines will then travel up the coast to MDC's Long Beach site for installation. The first flight is scheduled for the second quarter in 1998, "-though we're looking to see how we can accelerate that aggressively," says Phillips.

Joint certification by the US Federal Aviation Administration and European Joint Aviation Authorities is scheduled to take place in 1999, with first delivery to ValuJet in June that year.

Source: Flight International