The number of employees at the McDonnell Douglas aircraft sub-assembly plant in Salt Lake City could reach 1,000 by the mid-1990s, thanks to a recent announcement that American Airlines will purchase up to 60 new MD jets.

Dave Eastman, public relations officer for the Long Beach, Calif.-based McDonnell Douglas, said there are 244 employees in the sub-assembly plant in Salt Lake City, but the number is gradually increasing. He said the people in Long Beach, where the sub-assemblies are built into the aircraft, are pleased with productivity in the Salt Lake plant.According to news reports, American and McDonnnell officials have agreed on the sale of between 50 and 60 wide-body jets, which carry around 320 passengers. The MD-11 can carry about 320 passengers and has a list price of about $100 million, but American's actual purchase price will probably be between $80-$85 million each, industry experts said.

American also has negotiated the purchase of as many as 100 MD-80s, a small twin-jet manufactured by McDonnell Douglas that sells for about $20 million.

Eastman said his company already has delivered 150 MD-11s to American Airlines, and combined with other commitments, options and the recently announced sale, 350 planes will be purchased by American.

McDonnell Douglas had orders for 1,438 MD-80s and of those, 573 have been delivered to American Airlines. Based on the company producing 130 airplanes annually, Eastman said the sub-assembly plant in Salt Lake City should be active for several years.

Employees at the Salt Lake plant have been working on the floors for the MD-80 and on the tail section and aft (tail) engine inlets for the MD-11s. Eastman said 60 percent of the work in Salt Lake City is on the MD-80 and 40 percent on the MD-11.

When the McDonnell Douglas facility opened in Salt Lake City in September 1987, it originally was designed to provide some of the skin (outside surface) of the C-17, a new U.S. Air Force jumbo transport airplane. But when work on the C-17 was delayed, company officials decided to concentrate on sub-assembly work for commercial airplanes.

Now, rather than move the C-17 work into Salt Lake City, Eastman said company officials decided to leave the commercial airliner work in Salt Lake City and take the C-17 work to Long Beach. He said the C-17 work would have been done by large machines and few people, but the commercial aircraft work is more labor intensive, hence the hiring.