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The Boeing 717 is a t-tail single-aisle jetliner powered by two rear-mounted turbofan engines. The aircraft was designed for short-haul flights and is a popular regional jet. The 717 was released over two decades ago and is still a staple regional jet in the United States.
The popularity of the 717 is because it isn’t costly to operate and doesn’t require as much maintenance when compared to its rivals, all while not sacrificing performance. This combination proved to be a hit among airlines, and it remains one of the longest-serving and most popular regional jets today.
Pilots of the Boeing 717 swear by the aircraft and its sheer ability to absorb the punishment of regional operations, all without any complaints. In its two decades of service, there is yet to be an accident that has resulted in a loss of life or an aircraft being totaled.
Inception and Design
The Boeing 717 wasn’t always a Boeing aircraft. It doesn’t have any Boeing DNA in its design. The 717 started as the McDonnell Douglas MD-95 and was on the drawing board since 1983 when McDonnell Douglas was exploring possible designs to fill the gap between the DC-9-30 and the MD-80.
Development on the MD-95 was halted due to the economic crisis of the 1980s. When development restarted, the MD-95’s design was no longer what McDonnell Douglas was looking for.
So MD-95 was made smaller and renamed the MD-87. It retained the high MTOW and powerful engines, making the aircraft akin to the DC-9-30.
The MD-87 was too specialized to become a large-scale success and wasn’t competitive enough. In 1992, McDonnell Douglas once again focused on the short-haul 100-seater market and used the MD-80 as a base aircraft. The company joined with Pratt & Whitney and China National Aero-Technology Import.
The new aircraft would carry 105 passengers and be designated MD-87-105. This version was even shorter than the original MD-87. The MD-87-105 was scheduled to sell in 1994, but it would go through another re-design in the same year.
The new design brought the project back to its roots and resulted in an aircraft that was a carbon copy of the DC-90-30. Even though it was once again designated the MD-95, the dimensions, weight, and even fuel capacity were the same as the DC-90-30.
The MD-95 was in essence an updated DC-90-30, with more powerful BMW Rolls Royce BR700 series engines, a Honeywell EFIS avionics suite, a fly-by-wire mechanical control suite, and other modern systems.
Boeing Merger and Re-Branding
In 1997, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas completed their merger before the production of the MD-95. The MD-95 was to enter service in 1997, however, the merger would cause uncertainty for the future of the project.
Boeing opted to go ahead with the program and re-branded the aircraft as the Boeing 717-200. Even though the aircraft would compete directly with the 737-500, the project wasn’t scrapped because resources had been spent, and the 737-500 was already a decade older by then.
Two years after the merger, in 1999, the “new” Boeing 717-200 would enter service with AirTran Airways, which had ordered 50 units, with the option for 50 more.
Sales were slow at first, but the 717 would take a lot of punishment, require little maintenance, and is cost-effective. Once word spread, more airlines made orders.
During its eight-year production period, the 717 sold a total of 155 units, which isn’t a stellar number. Still, the aircraft was an untested model in a highly contested market and went up against the likes of the Embraer ERJ series, Bombardier CRJ series, and even Boeing’s own 737-500 and 737-600.
The Boeing 717 was also ill-timed. The events in 9/11 nearly caused regional air travel to grind to a halt. When the industry recovered, it made sense for airlines to purchase 737s and A318s because of the commonality factor.
The 717 might not have the highest number of sales, but these aircraft are built like tanks, and out of the 155 that were made, 99 are still in service, which is a retention rate of 64%. This is impressive considering that most of these aircraft are two decades old, and have been used in regional operators, which are brutal.
As of July 7th, 2022, there are four operators of the 717 remaining. They are Delta and Hawaiian Airlines in the United States, and National Jet Systems and Qantas Link in Australia.
Boeing 717 Specifications
|Parameter||Basic Gross Weight||High Gross Weight|
|Length||124 ft (37.81 m)|
|Height||29 ft 1 in (8.92 m)|
|Fuselage Width||10 ft 11.6 in (3.34 m)|
|Wingspan||93 ft 4 in (28.45 m)|
|Wing Area||1,001 ft² (93 m²)|
|Width||10 ft 3.8 in ( 3.15 m)|
|Cargo Capacity||935 ft³ (26.5 m³)||730 ft³ (20.7 m³)|
|Maximum Take-Off Weight||110,000 lb (49,845 kg)||121,000 lb (54,885 kg)|
|Empty Weight||67,500 lb (30,617 kg)||68,500 lb (31,071 kg)|
|Maximum Payload||26,500 lb (12,021 kg||32,000 lb (14,515 kg)|
|Fuel Capacity||24,609 lb (11,162 kg)||29,500 lb (13,381 kg)|
|Range||1,430 nmi (2,645 km)||2,060 nmi (3,815 km)|
|Cruise Speed (@ 34,200 ft)||Mach 0.77 (504 mph / 438 knots / 811 km/h)|
|Fuel Capacity||3,673 USG (13,903 l)||4,403 USG (16,665 l)|
|Average Fuel Burn (Per Hour)||2,200 kg/hr|
|Service Ceiling||37,100 feet (11,300 m)|
|Takeoff Thrust||18,500 lbf (82.3 kN)||21,000 lbf (93.4 kN)|
|Wake Turbulence Category||M|
|Occupancy (2 Class)||106|
|Occupancy (1 Class)||117|
|Flight Deck||Honeywell EFIS|
|Engine(s)||Rolls Royce BR715-A1-30||Rolls Royce BR715-C1-30|
|Auxiliary Power Unit||Rolls Royce Integrated Drive Generators|
Boeing 717 Flight Characteristics
The Boeing 717’s combination of delta wing and t-tail mean that the aircraft performs poorly at slow speeds and is tough to handle during landings.
However, there is no alternative as the engines are mounted aft of the wings on the fuselage, which would disturb the airflow over a conventional tail and might even cause damage due to the heat generated by the engines.
The delta wings of the 717 help prevent shockwaves at subsonic speeds and allow the aircraft to travel in the transonic envelope, but these wings are less effective at slower speeds and more likely to stall. The wing tips stall first, so either inboard spoilers or spoilers have to be fitted.
The 717’s controls use electrical signals to control hydraulic actuators, which operate the control surfaces. However, it is not a fly-by-wire aircraft as there is no computer involved in the steering process, unlike an Airbus.
Boeing 717 Configuration Options
The Boeing 717-200 was available in three main configurations. A two-class configuration with space for 106 seats, a single class configuration with 117 seats, and a maximum occupancy configuration that allowed a total of 134 seats.
Boeing 717 Price
In June 2021, the price range for a Boeing 717-200 was between $3.12 million and $5.64 million. The 717 might be over a decade old, but if you find a relatively low-time aircraft, it should be a worthwhile purchase, especially since it’s so cost-effective to operate.
Boeing 717 Orders and Deliveries
The 717 received a total of 155 orders from 1997 to 2002 and fulfilled all the orders by February 2003. The following table provides a detailed look at the orders for the 717.
|Country||Buyer||Order Quantity||Delivery Quantity||Final Delivery Date|
|USA||AirTran Airways||63||63||30 Jul 2001|
|Germany||Bavarian Airlines||5||5||29 Dec 1999|
|USA||Hawaiian Airlines||13||13||26 Jul 2001|
|Australia||Jetstar||3||3||29 Dec 2000|
|USA||Midwest Airlines||25||25||28 Feb 2003|
|Ireland||Pembroke Capital||12||12||20 Aug 2001|
|Spain||Quantum Air S.A.||3||3||22 Jun 2000|
|Turkmenistan||Turkmenistan Airlines||7||7||31 Jul 2001|
|USA||TWA||24||24||30 Jul 2001|
Boeing 717 Operation Costs:
The estimated lease cost for a Boeing 717-200 in June 2021 was between $65,000 to $82,500 monthly.
The Boeing 717 usually operates with four crew, two pilots, and two cabin personnel. It is estimated that the median annual salary of a captain employed by a regional airline is around $101,056, while a first officer can expect around $86,502.
Cabin attendants for low-cost airlines earn an estimated $23,500 on average. The 717 will then cost $234,558 in crew salaries alone annually.
Fixed maintenance costs for regional aircraft are rare because they are operated so heavily, and airlines often have a phase maintenance system in place that replaces the need for calendar-based inspections.
Insurance values for the Boeing 717-200 are hard to come by as airline insurance costs aren’t common knowledge and aren’t based on the individual aircraft type but the entire fleet as a whole.
Fuel is the largest cost incurred by any aircraft. Regional jets like the Boeing 717 prioritize fuel efficiency, so it doesn’t cost nearly as much as other jet aircraft to operate hourly. The 717 burns an average of 2.2 tonnes of Jet A-1 per hour. However, this can vary greatly based on the temperature and the route flown.
In January 2022, a metric ton of Jet A-1 cost $430, bringing the total cost of fuel per hour to $946.
Another area of focus for the Boeing 717 was reducing downtime and making the aircraft sturdy enough to withstand the punishment of regional operations and then some. The 717 retained the MD-80’s 100,000 cycle airframe structure that was proven to be low cost and reliable and improved upon it.
The 717 maintenance program has been designed using the Maintenance Steering Group’s MSG Level 3 Revision 2 process, which was also applied to the 737 program. The new maintenance program reduced maintenance on the 717 by 35% in comparison to the MD-80.
The 717’s Rolls Royce BR715 engines are part of the maintenance schedule for the aircraft instead of having its stand-alone overhaul program. This allows the extended periods between maintenance. There are also multiple access points for visual inspections.
The operating cost of a 717 depends on the route and location. Most regional flights do not offer complimentary meals on board, and the quick turnaround nature of the operators means the aircraft will most often land in its home base, which cuts down on accommodation charges for the crew.
In the event of unscheduled delays or overnights, then the costs increase accordingly.
The operation costs that a regional airline pays are navigation, landing, and parking fees.
The Boeing 717 is designed to spend as little time grounded. The 717 only completes a full maintenance cycle every 4,500 hours. So ramp charges are most likely the only storage charges the operator of a 717 would pay.
Proposed Boeing 717 Variants
The 717-100X started its life as the MD-95-20 and was a smaller version of the 717-200. The aircraft would seat a maximum of 86. The total length was reduced by 6ft 3 in (1.91 m).
The aircraft only went as far as wind tunnel testing before another design change would reduce the length bringing the total reduction to 12 ft 6 in (3.86 m) or eight frames. The launch date was postponed indefinitely at the end of 2000, and in 2003 the project was scrapped.
The 100X Lite was a smaller version of the 100X and would’ve carried a maximum of 75 passengers. The lighter aircraft would require less thrust and was designed to be fitted with Rolls-Royce BR710 turbofans. The model was abandoned along with the 100X in 2003.
Another variant of the 717 that was never produced is the 300X. This model started as the MD-95-50 and was to be a stretch version of the original with 24 additional seats in a two-class configuration, bringing the total number to 130.
The aircraft was stretched by adding five frames in front of the wing and four frames behind. The MTOW and payload were increased as well.
To cope with the extra weight, the 300X was powered by two Rolls Royce BR715C1-30 turbofans that produced 21,000 lbf (93.4 kN) each. Multiple airlines showed interest in the project, but like the rest of the variants, it was shut down in 2003.
717 Business Express
The 717 Business Express was to join Boeing’s lineup of business jets and was simply a 717-200 that could be configured to seat passengers in a luxury configuration with no economy seating.
Boeing estimated the typical number of seats to be 60. The lighter set-up of the aircraft improved the standard range of the high gross weight option by 1,080 (2,000) nmi to bring the total to 3,140 nmi (5,820 km).
Boeing 717 Competitors
The short-haul market is highly contested as it is not a duopoly with only Airbus. Smaller companies like Bombardier and Embraer have been extremely successful and solely focused on this market.
The A318 is the smaller variant of the world’s highest-selling airliner, the A320. It was purpose-built to take over the regional market. The A318 can carry between 107 to 132 passengers for a maximum distance of 3,213 nm (5,950 km) and has an MTOW of 130,000 lbs (59,000 kg).
However, the A320 wasn’t built for regional operations, and though the A318 was much smaller, the DNA of its larger brother was very much present.
The large engines burned too much fuel, and it didn’t stand up to the rigors of regional flying like its competition. The A318 is considered a commercial failure. During its 12-year production run, only 80 were ever made.
Though it wasn’t commercially successful, pilots enjoyed flying in the A318. The A318 is an easy aircraft to fly thanks to the fly-by-wire system. Plus, the A318 shares a type rating with the A320 family, which makes it easier to upgrade to better routes and pay.
Passengers also enjoyed flying on the A318 because it’s more comfortable, thanks to its wider than usual seats and silent cabin, which is something the smaller 717 lacked.
The 737-500 hit the skies in February 1990 and was the most successful aircraft for regional operations during its 10-year production run and sold 514 units.
The 737-500 was fitting with less powerful CFM56-3 series engines that were more efficient than the original aircraft, which would help with sales.
The success of the 737-500 can largely be attributed to the fact that Boeing was a well-established company at a time when competing aircraft were untested. In addition, the 737’s shared type rating made it a sensible choice for airlines with a fleet of larger 737s.
The 737-600 was the replacement for the 737-500 and would enter the market during its most competitive period ever. This combination led to Boeing selling only 69 units.
The 737 suffered from the same problem the A318 did. It wasn’t purpose-built for regional operations and was a fuselage shrink of a larger aircraft designed for medium-haul routes. The 737-500 no longer conducts revenue flights, with the last being in 2016.
Boeing 717 Incidents and Accidents
The Boeing 717 has been involved in four accidents, one attempted hijacking, and 26 incidents. Which is an amazing safety record for an aircraft with so many flying hours. This alone is a testament to its build quality.
All four accidents involved varying degrees of substantial damage. However, all the aircraft were repaired and brought back into service. These accidents included a hard landing and a ramp collision with a catering vehicle.
The most serious accident involved a nose gear that did not extend, which led to the nose of the aircraft being severely damaged as a result of making contact with the runway.
The failed hijacking occurred on May 29th, 2003 on a Qantas Link flight operated by Impulse Airlines in Victoria, Australia. 20 minutes after takeoff, a passenger attempted to rush the cockpit with two wooden objects.
Two flight attendants and a few passengers subdued the man, and he was taken into custody when the airplane landed at its departure airport.
The incidents included taxiway incursions and other minor damage to the aircraft, passengers, or third parties.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: How many 717s did Boeing Sell?
Answer: Boeing received and delivered a total of 155 units.
Question: How many Boeing 717s are Still in Service?
Answer: There are currently 99 aircraft operating. Most of the aircraft are operated by Delta and Hawaiian Airlines.
Question: Why are Regional Aircraft Built with Rear-fuselage Mounted Engines and a T-tail?
Answer: The main reason smaller jet engines don’t mount their engines on the wing is due to clearance issues. A t-tail is used so that turbulent airflow over the engines doesn’t interfere with the tail and its ability to function effectively.
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