Boeing 717 in renewed European sales campaign

 - May 8, 2008, 4:39 AM

Boeing signaled its new resolve to target regional airline applications for its 100-seat 717-200 by putting an aircraft on static display at Salzburg Airport during the ERA assembly. This followed the U.S. airframer’s debut appearance at the annual ERA gathering in Athens, Greece, last year.

Derived from the McDonnell Douglas MD-95, the 717 has long been viewed as something as an orphan in the Boeing family. But now the manufacturer is looking to capitalize on the fact that regional carriers in scope-clause-less Europe are looking to operate larger jet equipment. This opportunity has been boosted by the departure from the marketplace over the past 12 months of Fairchild Dornier with its 728 and 928 and BAE Systems with its Avro RJX series.

According to Jim Phillips, v-p and general manager of the 717 program, the aircraft is ideal for a 100-seat regional market that is characterized by short-range (sub-500 nm), high-frequency service. Around 80 percent of the trips now being flown by the 104 Boeing 717s in service to date average just 310 nm in length, and average daily utilization for the aircraft is 6.5 hr.

The aircraft that Boeing showed to ERA delegates is operated by Spanish carrier Aerolineas Balereas (AeBal). The Palma de Mallorca-based airline’s president, Jose Jaume, told AIN that he had chosen the 717 in preference to new-generation 70-seat regional jets because he calculated that he needed only five or six more passengers on each flight to break even. In return for this leap of faith, he believed that he has benefited from a larger cabin with unique features, such as extended baggage racks (offering the same cubic space per passenger as is available in a Boeing 747 widebody) and handrails.

Last year AeBal achieved exceptional dispatch reliability of 99.98 percent. The 717’s 12-month dispatch reliability as of September 15 stood at 99.45 percent.

Phillips said Boeing has looked at offering an 80-seat 717-100 with improved airfield performance, but acknowledged that this would still not be able to get into steep-approach, short fields such as London City Airport. The manufacturer has also considered a larger 717-300 version with a greater seat-mile cost advantage.

The 717 program is currently supported by firm orders for 162 aircraft. Boeing is hopeful that Turkmenistan Airlines will soon sign for two more, adding to the three it already operates. Existing European customers also include Greece’s Olympic Aviation and leasing companies Bavaria International (Germany) and Pembroke Capital (Ireland).