Air Transport World

Upping the ante. (McDonnell Douglas's MD-12 aircraft important to the company's future success) (includes related article about Douglas's negotiations with Taiwan Aerospace Co.)

McDonnell Douglas's quest for a competitive family depends on a line leader; the new MD-12 can be that leader if it gets off the ground

McDonnell Douglas believes it must have a full-range transport product line to survive. Here is that lineup: The MD-95 built in China, the MD-90 series, the MD-XX of 180-220 passengers expected around the century mark, the MD-11 and at the top, the MD-12 series. That, indeed, is a full-coverage family, ranging from 105 to 700-plus passengers.

This potentially powerful product lineup depends a great deal on the success of the MD-12 as a product and the successful conclusion of McDonnell Douglas's search for equity and production partners to build it and future programs. A lot is riding on the MD-12.

The glare of attention brought on both the partner search and the new MD-12 design also caught the company's decision to delay program launch well into next year. Becalmed by the overall dearth if aircraft orders, the MD-12's service introduction will be pushed into 1998.

This delay, plus the radical MD-12 redesign and the radical moves toward Asian partners have contributed to doubts about the company's ability to pull it off.

In part, this break from McDonnell Douglas's conservative corporate personally makes the move toward Asia appear to some not be the canny strategic maneuver that Douglas insists it is, but rather an act of desperation from a cash-strapped manufacturer needing to strengthen its commercial operations while its previously dominant military market goes into the tank (see TAC-full box).

From many angles, the reinvented MD-12 program seems to be the right airplane at the right time: Douglas needs the follow-on aircraft it promised to MD-11 customers; the trijet design begun with the DC-10 and tweaked to its economic maximum in the MD-11 was a deal end for future development; Boeing is busy with the technically ambitious 777 program and the instrument of its big-airplane-market monopoly, the 747--only recently revamped--might be vulnerable to a larger, longer-range offering. And Airbus, still engaged in putting its A340/A330 combo into service, is playing drawing-board games with a number of aircraft concepts--most high-tech--that seems to aim well above the 747 market that is part of the MD-12's initial target.

Now is the time, McDonnell Douglas believes, to enter the market with a new BIG airplane--initial versions seating 430-511 passengers. Not a technically ambitious airplane, mind you, just a BIG airplane using familiar engines, possessing unprecedented range and a design intended to sire a whole to sire a whole family of BIG airplanes with derivatives as diverse as a 450-passenger twinjet and a 700-plus passenger ultralong hauler. …

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