McDonnell Douglas (MDC) has formally agreed to pursue a "strategic collaboration" with Boeing for future development of widebody airliners, in a move seen as a possible first step towards a full-scale merger of the group's Douglas Aircraft (DAC) unit and the Seattle-based giant.

The deal, signed on 2 December, provides Boeing with much-needed extra engineering expertise for its 747-500X/600X, while also effectively thwarting any prospects of Airbus enlisting DAC on the A3XX.

The initial engineering-development work could lead to more extensive Boeing subcontract work for DAC, including design and manufacture of tooling and subassembly production and testing.

"As we go forward, hopefully Douglas will become part of the Boeing family in widebody aircraft," says Larry Clarkson, Boeing vice-president of planning and international development.

He adds that the deal is seen as the start of a "long-term strategic partnership".

Events leading to the agreement were "relatively quick", says Clarkson. It began with MDC's decision to scrap its own MD-XX trijet project in October and was followed with the dropping of MDC from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition, which left "a lot of engineering talent" which according to Clarkson then had "-nowhere to go".

An early approach was made to MDC president Harry Stonecipher by Boeing executive vice-president Tom Schick, on helping Boeing with the 747 task (Flight International, 4-10 December).

A Boeing team was sent on 11-12 November to view DAC's Long Beach site and negotiate an agreement. This was followed up around two weeks later by a visit to Seattle by DAC president Mike Sears, who met with Clarkson. "We had a follow-on meeting in Everett yesterday [2 December] and the deal was signed last night," says Clarkson. The agreement is expected to be finalised in January 1997, when "several hundred" DAC design and engineering staff will start work in the Puget Sound, Washington, area.

The injection of skilled engineers comes at a critical time for Boeing, which has been scouring the world for staff to support a raft of civil-aircraft development programmes, as well as the Department of Defense JSF and Airborne-Laser contracts.

Source: Flight International