Boeing 717-200 - The Capable DC-9 Mainline Regional Jet

Quick Summary - Tower 1

This is the first edition of our new section on our site called FlyRadius Tower. FlyRadius Tower is the area of our site where we discuss and analyze some of the current and historical topics surrounding the aviation industry. The first edition of FlyRadius Tower covers the Boeing 717-200, a plane that we have a full section of coverage on. You can check out our section on the Boeing 717-200 here. This FlyRadius Tower insight covers the historic and current state of the historic Boeing 717-200 program and why there has been increased interest in the aircraft.

Boeing 717-200 - The Capable DC-9 Mainline Regional Jet

The Boeing 717-200, sometimes called the Boeing 717, is an airplane that was developed by McDonnell Douglas and Boeing. McDonnell Douglas designed the jet to be an updated version of the Douglas DC-9-30. Originally called the McDonnell Douglas MD-95, Boeing changed the name of the aircraft to the Boeing 717-200 after the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. The aircraft entered service in October 1999 with AirTran Airways and a little under 7 years later, Boeing closed down the 717 program in May 2006.

During the period when Boeing was selling the Boeing 717, they had one large customer that ordered the jet, AirTran Airways. The airline, which had a background in operating DC-9 jets, would be the biggest supporter of the aircraft as they took delivery of approximately 88 Boeing 717-200s. Trans World Airlines was also a potentially large customer, however, when TWA merged with American Airlines in 2001, American decided to cancel the remaining orders of the jet (approximately 70 jets) and sell the 20 to 30 Boeing 717s they had. Boeing would gain orders from Hawaiian Airlines, Qantas, and Midwest Airlines, however, the orders were not enough for Boeing to keep production going past 2006.

During the 1990s and 2000s, regional jets had been gaining momentum in airline operations. Bombardier began delivering the CRJ100 / CRJ200 jets in 1995 and Embraer's ERJ series jets (ERJ-135, 140, & 145) entered service in 1997. Bombardier and Embraer would go on to release larger versions of their regional jets in the 2000s. Bombardier's and Embraer's regional jet programs gained thousands of orders and their jets became very popular among airlines around the world.

Boeing 717-231 TWA Trans World Airlines Photo

Above TWA Boeing 717-231 photo by Aero Icarus on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons. Photo (only) released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

The Boeing Mainline Regional Jet

The Boeing 717-200 is like a regional jet with a mainline jet factor and was in “competition” with the other regional jets in the marketplace. Here at FlyRadius, we find the aircraft to be the mainline regional jet. Why do we call it the mainline regional jet? Well first, most airlines operate and have operated the aircraft in their mainline operations (non-regional / not operated under a regional subsidiary). Secondly, the aircraft's interior is large enough to be considered mainline quality. The plane can also seat up to 134 people, however, 117 in a one class configuration or 106 in a two class setup is common. Thirdly, the Boeing 717’s range fits the regional aircraft profile (1,430 nm to 2,060 nm). The plane is basically a mainline jet that operates on regional routes.

Mainline Regional Jet, Disadvantage?

At the time the 717 program was active, the mainline quality may have been a disadvantage, as airlines were actively using regional subsidiaries and airlines to operate regional routes. Many large airlines at the time operated regional routes of 100 seats or less with regional airlines to avoid other contracts they had with their mainline operations, which still occurs today (in the U.S.). An example of the effects of those contracts can be seen in the creation of the Bombardier CRJ440 in the 2000s. The CRJ440 was a CRJ200 that was certified with a max of 44 seats. Also during that time period, the 50 seat regional jet had gained significant importance in operations. Today, the use of the 50 seat regional jet has decreased significantly. This can be attributed to a variety of factors including customer preference, more contract flexibility, aircraft manufacturers ending production, and economics / cost considerations. The closure of the Boeing 717 program near the peak of “economic expansion” in the U.S., could have also played a role in the fate of the program.

Boeing 717-200 Interest Increase

With the decline of 50 seat aircraft and airlines looking at larger aircraft for regional routes, the Boeing 717-200 has seen some sort of a revival in interest. Some reasons for the interest in the aircraft is that it is a “Mainline Regional Jet”. The Boeing 717-200 has the comfort factor that many regional jets cannot match. The three by two seating (economy section) and two by two seating in first / business class are cabin configurations that other regional jets can not meet. The plane has also been operating with airlines for a long time now, has the history of the DC-9 program, and has been reliable. Also, the cost of acquiring the jet may be relatively low ($10 million or less) if you can find the jet for sale.

Delta Air Lines purchased the majority of the worldwide Boeing 717-200 fleet from AirTran/Southwest and a few other airlines like Blue1. Volotea has been mentioning that they will be removing the aircraft from the aircraft from their fleet and has moved 2 jets, which Hawaiian Airlines acquired. They still have around 17 717s that may be available. Another airline may also be ready to sell a few 717s, so there are some jets that may be available.

Limited Options For Growth

There are some situations that make acquiring Boeing 717s, less attractable to airlines. The main problem is that there are very limited options in acquiring more 717s. The 17 jets and possibly a few more that may be available are likely the only jets that will be on the market. Delta Air Lines controls most of the fleet and the other operators are likely not going to sell Boeing 717-200s anytime soon. An airline could create a small fleet with the aircraft, however, planning to grow with the Boeing 717 will not be possible at this time.

Bombardier CS100 and Embraer E190 & E195 – Boeing 717-200 Replacements

Bombardier has developed what we consider to be a true Boeing 717-200 replacement that could be better than the 717. The new CS100 has many 717 like features and more. The CS100, however, is not a regional jet as it has a range of over 3,000 nautical miles, which is an advantage that the Boeing 717-200 does not have. The main disadvantage of the CS100 is that it does not have significant experience in operations and its reliability is being tested. Also, we have not looked at fuel costs and other expenses of the Bombardier CS100 to compare to the Boeing 717.

Another aircraft that can also be comparable to the Boeing 717-200 is Embraer’s E190 / E195 jets, including the upcoming E2 version. The E190 & E195 are comparable in cabin comfort, number of seats, and range when compared to the Boeing 717-200. This aircraft does have operating experience and is popular among airlines, especially the smaller E170 / E175 version.

The Boeing 717-200 Back In Production?

If Boeing wanted to reenter the regional jet market, they could restart the Boeing 717-200 program and compete with the other aircraft in the marketplace. This would take some significant research to see if the market is still interested in this aircraft and the costs to restart the program. Boeing could also consider redesigning the jet to make it even better. The advantage that the Boeing 717-200 has over other aircraft is the history and experience of the DC-9 platform and its mainline regional jet qualities. Boeing is focused on manufacturing mainline narrowbody and widebody aircraft like the 737, 777, and 787, however, if they ever wanted to reenter the regional market, the Boeing 717-200 may be the aircraft to go with.