Julian Moxon/PARIS Lane Wallace/LOS ANGELES

SCANDINAVIAN AIRLINES System (SAS) has dealt long-time supplier McDonnell Douglas (MDC) a hefty blow by selecting Boeing's 737-600 to meet its 100-seat-aircraft requirement. The SAS move launches the smallest member of Boeing's next-generation 737 family with a firm order for 35 aircraft, worth $1.18 billion, and options for 35 more.

Douglas Aircraft vice-president and general manager of marketing John Feren describes the SAS decision as a "...big disappointment. It's an even bigger disappointment when the customer has operated your products for a long time and they switch." SAS was considered a leading candidate to launch the MD-95, a BMW Rolls-Royce BR.715-powered upgrade of the DC-9.

Feren believes that SAS was swayed by Boeing's commercial offer - a sentiment reinforced by the European bidders, who say privately that undercutting Boeing would have been unprofitable.

"Despite the setback at SAS, the [MD-95] programme is still going forward today. We need to get customers for the project, but it is not going to be successful or unsuccessful on the basis of one order," says Feren.

SAS fleet-development vice-president Ulf Abrahamsson says, however: "The MD-95 is a paper airplane. We might have considered it if other customers had been prepared to line up."

Competing against Boeing with its 737-600 were, MDC with the MD-95; Airbus offering the A319; Avro with the RJ100; and Fokker offering its Fokker 100. The aircraft will replace MDC DC-9s and Fokker F28s, used on longer routes. Deliveries will begin in the second half of 1998. The 737-600s will be powered by General Electric/Snecma CFM56-7s.

SAS will fit convertible seats, which allow the aircraft to be reconfigured from six-abreast to five-abreast seating between flights, for a seating capacity ranging from 95 to 128, Boeing says.

Compared with the current 737-500, the -600 has a bigger wing, which increases range cruise speed and maximum altitude. The same wing is used on the 128- to149-seat -700 and 160- to 189-seat -800.

MDC still believes that there is a global market for 1,600 to 1,700 100-seat airliners, mainly to replace older aircraft forced out by noise rules. SAS was the first of several airlines and leasing companies looking at 100-seat aircraft, including Alitalia, Austrian, Korean Air and International Lease Finance, to come to a decision, the company says.

Abrahamsson stresses that Airbus remains in a strong position to address the airline's future needs. He explains: "The A319 was very good, but we did not consider it a true 100-seater."

He adds, however, that the commonality advantages between the 180-seat Airbus A321, and the larger A330 and A340 make all three types attractive for longer routes. He says that the A321 is "very well suited" for the European route system, noting that an MD-80 replacement decision is due in two years, with service entry in 1999.

Abrahamsson says that the decision to buy Boeing will not affect the European Quality Alliance between SAS, Austrian and Swissair, which has as one of its aims the reduction of maintenance costs by sharing resources. "With the number of aircraft we've ordered, there is no impact on commonality, since this is a stand-alone fleet, "he says.

Source: Flight International