October 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 6 
Commercial Airplanes

5 candles on the cake

Why this anniversary is important to the 717


A Boeing 717 in the new AirTran Airways liveryIn honoring important dates, the fifth anniversary is designated as the wood anniversary-admittedly less impressive than silver at 25 or gold at 50. But in the life of an airplane program, the five-year-mark is a major milestone. By then the model has been time-tested in revenue service.

The Boeing 717 program, with more than 130 of its 717-200 series aircraft now in operation at eight airlines, is in the midst of celebrating a series of key five-year anniversaries. In these past five years, the airplane has made good on its promise to deliver deep savings for carriers in need of 100-seat aircraft capable of economical, high-cycle operations.

That performance capped a tremendous amount of work by people on the 717 program over the years.

On Sept. 1, 1999, the Long Beach, Calif.-built passenger jet received its single-basis certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Joint Aviation Authorities. The concurrent and cooperative process marked a breakthrough in streamlining the complex regulatory oversight process. Later that month, the first 717 to be delivered went to launch customer AirTran Airways.

And on Oct. 12, 1999, the Boeing 717 entered revenue service, carrying AirTran Airways passengers from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. This inaugural flight pioneered a new level of big-jet passenger comfort, high-tech features, fuel economy and dispatch reliability for airlines requiring small, environmentally friendly aircraft.

Jodie Foster talking to Patricia Hoyt

Jodie Foster visits the 717 program

Academy Award-winning actress Jodie Foster visited the Boeing Long Beach (Calif.) Division recently to research her starring role in the upcoming film "Flight Plan," scheduled to go into production this month. Foster (right) spent several hours talking to mechanical engineers assigned to the 717 program, including Patricia Hoyt (left), and also toured aircraft on the moving assembly line. In the film, Foster plays a mechanical engineer who tries to unravel a Hitchcock-like mystery, using her engineering knowledge, on a flight to New York City. "Flight Plan" is scheduled to be in theaters next summer.








Today, Rolls-Royce-powered 717 jetliners are providing dependable service at AirTran Airways, Midwest Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines in the United States. They also fly for Aerolineas Baleares and Olympic Airways in Europe, Turkmenistan Airlines in Central Asia, Bangkok Airways in the Far East, and JetStar in Australia.

The 717 program began life as the MD-95 at McDonnell Douglas two years before the merger with Boeing in 1997. Drawing on design experience from the long-running DC-9 and MD-80 programs, engineers and assembly personnel had the twinjet in the air for first flight on Sept. 2, 1998. The certification came one day shy of a year later at the conclusion of a test program that put test aircraft through more than 2,000 flight hours and 1,900 flights.

Launch customer AirTran Airways saved more than $3 million in fuel costs alone in its first year of 717 operation, and direct maintenance costs dropped 45 percent, estimated Joe Leonard, the carrier's chairman and CEO. The carrier has since added 74 more 717s, as well as longer-range 737-700s, giving it the youngest all-Boeing fleet in the United States and an average cost per available seat mile better than 20 percent below its primary competitor's.

With a fleet dispatch reliability of greater than 99.4 percent, the 717 also has helped Hawaiian Airlines, which flies 11 717s on inter-island services, record eight consecutive months as the best U.S. operator for on-time arrivals. Meanwhile, Midwest Airlines, flying an all-717 fleet for its "Signature Service," has received best U.S. domestic carrier awards this year from Travel + Leisure magazine and the Official Airline Guide.

"At the five-year mark, the 717 is proving to be exactly the right plane for its segment of the market," said Pat McKenna, vice president and program manager for the 717 program. "And with the new enhancements we're planning, the 717 will be even more of a versatile moneymaker for customers."

Or as AirTran Airways' Leonard said, "I believe the 717 has made AirTran Airways the most cost-efficient airline operating today."



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