Euro-Boeing : The Rise and Fall of the Dassault Mercure 100

The Dassault Mercure aimed to be a European competitor to the Boeing 737, but its limited range and bad timing during the oil crisis doomed it to commercial failure. Despite a perfect safety record, only 12 were built and the project ended in 1975.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Dassault began the development of a twin-engine, single-aisle airliner in the spring of 1969. The French aircraft manufacturer, buoyed by the success of its business jet Mystère XX, was confident in its program. However, it was already extremely pricey. That is why the state funded around 56% of the budget. The manufacturer contributed 14%, while various economic and institutional partners funded the remaining 30%. The Mercure program, the name given to this aircraft, was assured of a bright future due to the near success that Marcel Dassault and his son Serge achieved in those years.

In addition, the Clodoaldian aircraft maker was extremely astute in its selection of reputable European subcontractors. Dassault would establish partnerships with ADAP in Belgium, Canadair in Canada, Casa in Spain, FW in Switzerland, and, most significantly, Fiat in Italy. The final assembly of the airliner was done in Mérignac, France, with each individual responsible for a specific component.

Dassault’s designers selected a twin-engine jet that was relatively conventional in terms of aesthetics. The jet featured a classic fuselage, a low cruciform tail, a slightly pointed snout, and sweeping wings. It bore a remarkable resemblance to a French copy of the Boeing 737 due to the two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-15 engines that were fitted beneath the wings. However, the analogy to the American star airplane ends there. The commercial success of the aircraft was adversely affected by the French engineers’ decision to restrict its fuel capacity, which resulted in a substantial reduction in its range when operating with a commercial load. The aircraft’s cabin was intended to accommodate 150 passengers; however, the Mercure could accommodate up to 162 passengers in a high-density configuration. The commercial designation “Mercure 100” was assigned to the airliner.

The initial prototype performed its inaugural flight on Friday, May 28, 1971. Jean Coureau, the senior test pilot, was accompanied in the cockpit by test pilot Jérôme Résal and test engineer Gérard Joyeuse. Less than a week later, they demonstrated the aircraft at the 1971 Paris Air Show. Marcel Dassault and Georges Pompidou, the President of the Republic, were both in attendance. Air Inter placed an order for ten production aircraft a few months later. It was expected that Air France would adopt the same approach; however, the national airline did not. It operated Boeing 727s and 737s, more suitable for its needs than the Dassault Mercure 100. The French Air Force also rejected the aircraft even though it could have been an ideal match for the GLAM or Group of Ministerial Air Liaison. Douglas DC-8s and Sud Aviation Caravelles were employed by the latter to guarantee presidential transportation at that time.

France certified the aircraft on February 12, 1974, and it began commercial operations in June of that year. Air Inter initially operated it between Paris-Lyon and Paris-Toulouse, after which it expanded to include routes between Paris-Marseille and Paris-Nice. The Dassault Mercure 100 was limited to domestic flights or short-haul destinations, including Amsterdam, Brussels, London, and Rome, in contrast to its primary competitors, the Boeing 737 and the Douglas DC-9s. Additionally, the airlines of Dassault’s industrial partners declined to participate. To exacerbate the situation, the Mercure 100 was swiftly impacted by two main economic factors: the depreciation of the US currency and the oil crisis. The production line was terminated in December 1975 after the tenth production aircraft was delivered, seemingly concluding Dassault’s industrial adventure.

The aircraft’s operational history was initially restricted to domestic flights until the late 1980s, after which it was used for European flights from the early 1990s until it retired from Air Inter. Commercial operations were discontinued by the French airline in April 1995. The Dassault Mercure 100 was rendered antiquated by that time. Nevertheless, the airline’s ten production units and the second prototype, placed into service twelve years ago, have accumulated 360,000 flight hours and transported 44 million passengers. The Mercure 100 is one of the safest airliners in history, as it has never been involved in a severe accident.

The Dassault Mercure 100, despite its significant shortcomings, enabled the Hauts-de-Seine-based manufacturer to explore a flight domain that is essential for the development of future wide-body aircraft. The Franco-American CFM86 engine was considered for the Mercure 200 but was never developed beyond the conceptual stage. Currently, there are several copies in Europe, such as one at the Technik Museum in Speyer, Germany, and another at the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace in Le Bourget. Additionally, an aircraft is maintained by the École Supérieure des Métiers de l’Aéronautique in Montpellier for training student engineers.

The French company did not build any additional airliner following the Mercure.


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