The future of the troubled Boeing MD-90 TrunkLiner programme is hanging in the balance with the Chinese Government expected to decide the fate of the programme shortly.

Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) is facing the prospect of its second major setback in recent months after the collapse of the AE31X project with Airbus, with the viability of the planned licence-production of the MD-90 being called into question. There are still no airline buyers in prospect, and final assembly of the first twinjet in Shanghai has yet to begin and has little chance of being completed before the end of this year.

Beijing has initiated a major overhaul and restructuring of its loss-making state enterprises, which includes AVIC. "No one believes 20 aircraft will now be built in China," says an industry source. "The civil aviation administration and the airlines don't like the aircraft. AVIC has wrongly priced the jets and doesn't understand how to market them," he adds.

The pending decision is now whether to cancel the programme outright, or build a token number of aircraft - the most likely course. AVIC has already sunk considerable funds into the programme and with first major subassemblies arriving at Shanghai Aviation Industrial (SAIC), it is suggested that as few as three to five of the 155-seat jets could be completed.

At one stage it was envisaged that 150 TrunkLiners would be built. In the 13 years since AVIC first cemented a tie-up with McDonnell Douglas, SAIC has produced just 35 kit-assembled MD-82/83s. The plan to licence-manufacture 40 follow-on MD-90s was halved in 1994, with Long Beach instead building and delivering the balance direct to China Eastern Airlines and China Northern Airlines.

SAIC began fabricating the first parts for the 20 remaining MD-90s in late 1995 and had been scheduled to deliver the first aircraft this April. No airline appears willing to take the aircraft, however.

Source: Flight International