Air Transport World

Transports live at McDonnell Douglas; variants of existing products are again offered after the late '83 wipeout of programs; looking ahead, MACDAC will test fly propfan.

A cetain sense of deja vu pervades during the late 1984 telling of McDonnell Douglas' future airliner plans. In late 1983 these plans included a shortened version of the MD-80 series and an updated DC-10, reworked with a two-place cockpit, that would be available in two fuselage lengths. But these programs were cancelled.

Now, in the late 1984, Douglas Aircraft Company is offering to airlines a shortened version of the MD-80 series and soon may offer an updated DC-10 in two fuselage lengths. This is not to say that these proposed programs are the same as in 1983--there are substantial differences. Also cited as a possible product offering in a further stretch of the MD-80 series, this to be powered by either CFM International's CMF56-5 or International Aero Engines' V2500. And lurking on the horizon as a serious contender for commercial development is a propfan airliner.

"A year ago we had taken premature aircraft to the market, aircraft that either were not good business for us or the market was not ready for," said Louis F. Harrington, VP and general manager--advance products. "We were ready to launch the MD-90 and MD-100, but the airlines were not ready to buy."

Cancellation of the MD-90, MD-100 and the D-3300 study project for a 150-seater came during a time of great turmoil in Long Beach. The on-going labor strike that would drag into February, moves by McDonnell Douglas diversifying with the purchase of Hughes Helicopter and a computer firm, plus the cancellations--announced abruptly just weeks after confident pronouncements had predicted the projects' imminent launching--combined to create the impression that, perhaps, a decision had been made to get out of the airliner business and go into more predictably profitable fields.

This possibility never was given credence by McDonnell Douglas' major air transport competitors, Boeing and Airbus, and for good reason. The MD-80 program, already successful, remained a winner through 1984, racking up 115 firm orders in the first nine months of the year, building the backlog for that type to nearly 300 airplanes. At the current production rate of five per month, that's enough business to keep the Long Beach assembly lines rolling for five years if the orders stopped tomorrow--a highly unlikely possibility.

Replacement potential

Production launch of the new shortened MD-80 variant--the MD-87--at this writing is nearly assured. …

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