The 717 could have been more than just a single model. There were plans for a regional sized jet and a stretch model the length of an MD-80.
Even prior to the introduction of the Boeing 717 into commercial service, there were ideas to develop stretched and shortened versions to complement the basic 106-seat Boeing 717-200.
Born as the McDonnell Douglas MD-95 and launched in November 1995 when Valujet Airlines ordered 100. The aircraft was re-named “Boeing 717“ in January 1998 and entered service with AirTran – the successor of ValuJet – in September 1999.
The Boeing 717 earned high marks for efficiency, quietness, and comfort. The basic design of the Boeing 717 bears the pedigree of the Douglas DC-9 with further evolvement into the highly successful MD-80 series and then the MD-90.
The DC-9/MD-80 earned high reputation for robustness, durability, efficiency, and comfort while the MD-90´s hallmark were the very quiet and clean IAE V2500-engines. The DC-9 and MD-80 enjoyed longevity and were widely used by many airlines around the world. The majority of DC-9-operators also selected the MD-80.
However, the MD-90 can´t be described as a business success due to many cancellations by major customers and the fact that the MD-90 (without a family of differently-sized aircraft) was not able to compete with the Boeing 737-series and the Airbus A320-family.
While the commercial success of the civil branch of McDonnell Douglas declined during the first half of the 1990s but at the same time, McDonnell Douglas developed their new 100-seater MD-95.
The MD-95 was seen as the perfect solution for many operators to replace their DC-9s and to augment their MD-80s. That led McDonnell Douglas to announce development of an MD-95 family. That led to a shorter-fuselage MD-95-10 and a stretched MD-95-50 to complement the basic MD-95-30. When Boeing took over, those concepts became the Boeing 717-100X and Boeing 717-300X, respectively.
The development of a Boeing 717-family was seen as an important step by many analysts. Providing buyers with versions that fit their needs while maintaining consistency in maintenance were considered great selling points.
It´s noteworthy that the stages of development and/or potential evolution were mentioned during the entire production-run of the 717 and even during certification and flight-testing.
The larger Boeing 717-300X would have been enlarged to 138 to 147 feet with a capacity for 128 to 145 passengers. AirTran was seen as the most likely airline to order this stretched version to augment their Boeing 717-200s. There were also sales-efforts to companies belonging to the “Star Alliance” including Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, and Lufthansa.
The Boeing 717-100X would have been a shortened variant of the 717-200 with a total length of 108 to 114 feet and a capacity of approximately 85 passengers in two classes. This version generated interest by British Midland Airways amongst others as part of a purchase of the smaller 717-100X and the basic 717-200.
Others like Aerolineas Argentinas/Austral saw the 717-family of all three versions as an attractive solution to standardize and modernize their fleets.
In 1999 there was also a concept called the “Boeing 717-200 Lite.” Weighing in at under 50 tons, this version would save money on daily operations due to lower fees, etc.
End Game: Not Enough Orders
Boeing also worked to develop best practices with smaller companies that lacked the infrastructure of larger carriers. Olympic Aviation and Bangkok Air were typical customers with their small 717-fleets and regional routes.
Additionally, there were ideas to de-rate the BR715-engines electronically to lower thrust-settings in the interest of longer engine life.
Boeing was only interested in producing three version of 717s if the orders were sufficient. Sales were sluggish and in 2005 Boeing announced it would discontinue production the following year.
What started with the DC-9 four decades earlier ended with that decision. Delta ordered 15 DC-9 aircraft and currently operates the largest world’s largest fleet of MD-80/-90/Boeing 717s.
Special thanks to Peter Breiting for being an Avgeekery guest author. You can learn more about the DC-9, MD-80 and its derivatives from MD-80.com.
About the author:
Peter Breiting, born in in Hamburg/Germany, maintains the largest enthusiast-site dedicated to the MD-80, MD-90, Boeing 717 and DC-9. Educated as a merchant for wholesale trade, he has no job-related connection to aviation but is always looking to break into an aviation career.