McDONNELL DOUGLAS (MDC) chief executive Harry Stonecipher has moved to quash speculation over the group's commitment to the airliner market, admitting that the doubts have been "hurting" sales prospects.

In a blustering performance at the Paris air show, he claimed that, if MDC were not already in the commercial-aircraft business, it would be looking to buy its way in.

Stonecipher concedes that negative speculation was a factor in losing the crucial SAS competition for a new 100-seat jet airliner. The decision gave Boeing a launch customer for its new-generation 737-600, but left MDC still looking for the first sales of its MD-95.

"We have a job of convincing people that we're in this business to stay," says Stonecipher. "We're ready to re-assert ourselves in the commercial-aircraft market," he adds, brushing aside speculation that MDC might be preparing to leave the business, heightened by his own appointment a year ago as chief executive with a reputation for rationalisation.

The main focus has been on returning the Douglas Aircraft division to profit, says Stonecipher, playing down questions about the lack of new orders and aircraft projects.

"I don't care if we never launch a new aircraft," he says, claiming that the business can survive comfortably with its existing range of aircraft, based on the MD-80/90 twinjet series and MD-11 tri-jet.

He maintains that the long-awaited launch of the MD-95 will take place once a major launch customer can be found, with the aim of winning a slice of a market estimated at 1,700 aircraft over the next 20 years.

Stonecipher admits that there are no launch customers in prospect for the programme, but says, that he is happy to wait "...until the market decides".

He also rejects the need to follow Airbus and Boeing into producing a family of aircraft covering every seating segment, and doubts that there is sufficient market demand for the launch of new high-capacity or supersonic transports now being discussed.

While bullish on the group's commitment to expand into civil markets, Stonecipher confirms that MDC remains a "potential buyer or a seller" in the consolidation taking place in the US missiles and helicopter markets.

Korean Airlines has placed an order for three MD-83s to be delivered in the first quarter of 1996. Taiwanese domestic carrier U Land Airlines has ordered two MD-82s to start services late this year.

Source: Flight International