Boeing is evaluating raising the production rate of the 717-200, but is holding off a final decision pending the planned completion of the American Airlines takeover of one of the aircraft's largest operators - TWA.

The plan coincides with Boeing's gradual transition to a moving 717 production line at Long Beach, California. The line is being prepared to begin moving in August, and is currently in "pulsed" configuration in which the aircraft are moved simultaneously to the next assembly position once every six days. Each aircraft moves 43m (141ft), pulled along by a drive- chain housed in a trench. The move takes 20min for the entire line instead of five to six hours taken up by the former method. When the final phase of the moving line begins, each aircraft and its work stands will move along at the rate of approximately 30mm/min (1.2in/min).

The 717's order backlog totals 107 aircraft, which equates to over two years production at the current output rate of roughly 3.5 aircraft a month. The line is designed to produce up to seven aircraft per month, with an increase to five per month being studied.

The maximum could theoretically be extended further to as many as 10 if need be, says Boeing. The company originally planned to accelerate the line to 5.2 per month by March 2001, and possibly 6.6 at a later date but is now evaluating the timing of the move given the degree of market uncertainty.

The decision depends on the outcome of American's TWA take-over, and the impact it will have on the airline's outstanding orders and options for the 717. The airline has received 15 of the 50 on firm order, and the delivery of newly completed aircraft is now being delayed as the operator goes through bankruptcy courts to secure bridge- funding for each new piece of equipment.

Atlanta-based AirTran, which originally launched the aircraft as the MD-95 with orders and options for 100, has expressed interest in some of the TWA delivery slots, should American decide against taking a number of the remaining aircraft. Another airline, Impulse of Australia, may also have an influence on the line rate. The low-cost carrier, currently operating eight 717s, reportedly plans to increase its fleet to "around 20" in late 2001.

The 717 has received certification from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Aviation Register and the Aviation Register of Ukraine. The work is the culmination of two months of activity between Boeing, the CIS authority, Ukraviatrons and the US Federal Aviation Administration, which originally certificated the aircraft in 1999.

Source: Flight International