Air Transport World

Douglas resurgence: good for airlines, bad for competitors. (Dougals Aircraft Co.)

Douglas resurgence: good for airlines, bad for competitors Long Beach--Airline customers like competition for their business. It lowers prices and rates. Airlines like competition from their suppliers, too, for the same reason.

So it is with pleasure and financial reward that carriers worldwide have greeted the resurgence of Douglas Aircraft Company (DAC). For the past few years, Long Beach-based Douglas has injected a large dose of aggressiveness into commercial airliner sales.

The fact that Douglas is back from a difficult period was never more evident than in late January when Delta Air Lines announced that it would launch the MD-88, the latest model in Douglas' successful DC-9 program. Delta's decision shocked Boeing, which retaliated by assigning new people to the Delta account.

In Seattle and elsewhere a good deal of credit for Douglas' recent success is the company's president, James E. Worsham, formerly the top marketing man at General Electric's jet engine division. "There's respect for Worsham up here," says a Boeing official. Some of that respect is probably because Worsham's deal-making ability is so similar to E.H. (Tex) Boullioun's, Boeing's former deal-maker extraordinaire. "Worsham makes promises and he does what he says he's going to do," says the Boeing man.

The Worhsam touch

Worsham came to Long Beach as executive VP in March 1982--right in the middle of the airline industry recession. There had been a long dry period for Douglas' St. Louis-based parent. The McDonnell Co. bought Douglas in 1967 and had yet to recoup its investment.

His assignment, Worsham says, "was to revitalize the external image of Douglas Aircraft Co. and its marketing instincts. Douglas needed orders and customers." Worsham had to show St. Louis that the commercial aircraft business could make money.

Six months later Worsham was made president. But it takes awhile, even for corporate turnaround crisis, to make a dent, particularly since the airline industry's financial state still hadn't improved. In early 1983 the MD-80 production line was down to .67 aircraft a week, the minimum necessary to keep suppliers building parts. Douglas was building white tails. As Worsham politely describes the awful sales record, "There was lack of public knowledge of the MD-80, lack of visibility." Swissair, an MD-80 launch customer, "is a wonderful airline," says Worsham, "but it's in Switzerland. …

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