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MD-95 re-emerges as Boeing 717

Guy Norris/LOS ANGELES

Boeing has finally committed to the future development of the 100-seat MD-95, renaming the twinjet as the 717, to bring it within the expanded Boeing airliner family.

The "birth" of the 717 follows an extended phase of the post-merger strategy review of McDonnell Douglas (MDC) products, during which its long-term survival depended on reducing costs to regional-jet price levels. Although Boeing is not quoting a figure, it is thought that the price target for the 100-seater, now dubbed the 717-200, is between $18 million and $20 million, depending on options.

"We are in the process of re-pricing the aircraft, and that will be out shortly. Cost cuts have come from every area of the aircraft," says executive vice-president, Thomas Schick, who expects that the revised price "-will be pleasant" to prospective customers.

Although the move commits Boeing to continued production and development of the 717-200 beyond the 50 firm orders from AirTran Airlines, it does not guarantee development of either an 80-seat 717-100 (formerly the MD-95-20), or a stretched 120-seat -300 (MD-95-50). The cost target for the -100 is believed to be closer to $16 million, but "-the customers will dictate whether we go forward with a smaller or larger version", adds Schick. Boeing says: "We have several customers unannounced and some highly interested."

Boeing is gearing up to produce up to ten aircraft a month on two parallel production lines at Long Beach, California, and will deliver the first nine to AirTran in 1999, pending certification in June 1999. Initial production will rise steadily thereafter, with up to 40 planned for delivery in 2000, and possibly double that in 2001. MDC estimated originally that nominal production would be about half that.

Virtually the entire production of structures and components is being undertaken by risk-sharing partners. One of the anomalies of the launch is Alenia's position as the supplier of major fuselage sections while also being a partner in the rival AE31X programme. Other partners include BMW Rolls-Royce as exclusive engine supplier with its BR715.

Korean Air and Hyundai are supplying the nose assembly and wing, respectively. Other major parts are coming from Germany, Israel, Japan, Taiwan and the USA.

Boeing estimates the market potential for the 717 family (80-120 seats) at around 2,500 aircraft over the next 20 years. The -200 is aimed initially at the 800-plus MDC DC-9 replacement market as well as the 100-seater niche occupied by the Aero International (Regional) Avro RJ and Fokker 100. The re-naming and emphasis on the "7-series" family background, however, is also clearly a shot across the bows of the slow-moving AE31X plans of Aviation Industries of China (AVIC), Airbus Industrie Asia (AIA) and Singapore Technologies. "These are paper products, several years away," says Schick.

The 717 model number was originally assigned to early KC-135A tankers, as well as the medium-range derivative of the 707, which eventually became the 720. Boeing says that the "1" in 717 now stands for "100 seater" as well as its "commitment to continue production of the aircraft". The first aircraft will be flown in June.

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