U.S. Continues to Press for Saudi Jet Order : Aerospace: Boeing, McDonnell hope to supply planes. Administration officials will seek official word during Gulf visit.


Two more Clinton Administration officials will personally ask Saudi Arabia to include Boeing Co. and McDonnell Douglas Corp. passenger jets in the Saudis’ expected $6-billion order for new airliners.

Last month, after a personal appeal from President Clinton to King Fahd and months of intense lobbying by other Administration officials, White House and Saudi officials said Saudi Arabia had agreed to buy its planes from the U.S. manufacturers.

The disclosure appeared to be a major setback for the other major builders of commercial aircraft, the European consortium Airbus Industrie, which also fought hard for the sale.

But Saudia, Saudi Arabia’s national airline, has yet to announce its decision. U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena and Federal Aviation Administration chief David Hinson, who are making a five-day trip to the Persian Gulf region beginning this weekend, will again make the request during their stop in Saudi Arabia.


Although the trip was planned months ago and discussions are to cover several topics, “among the major reasons” for the visit is to again urge the purchase of American planes, said Transportation Department spokesman Richard Mintz.

“Until we have some official notification” about the Saudi order, “we really want to take nothing for granted,” he said.

Boeing said it was “encouraged” that the Administration was keeping up the pressure on the Saudis, but otherwise would not comment. McDonnell and Airbus also had no comment.

With demand for airliners in a slump worldwide, the Saudi order--expected to be for 60 to 80 planes--would be the biggest in years.

The Saudis are taking their time deciding because “they realize they can get a much better deal from all three manufacturers the longer they wait,” said Mark Bobbi, an aerospace analyst with research company Forecast International in Newtown, Conn.

Boeing, the industry leader, is expected to get most of any U.S. jet orders, but the deal is still crucial to McDonnell, whose Douglas Aircraft Co. builds commercial jets in Long Beach. With about 13,000 employees, Douglas desperately needs new orders and has said it is even willing to accept Saudi crude oil as payment to help swing the deal.

Meanwhile, Administration officials worked to get financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which has agreed to provide the Saudis with loan guarantees to buy McDonnell and Boeing jets.