Boeing is announcing today that is to issue "stop work" notices to long-lead parts suppliers for the C-17 Globemaster III, marking a "break in production" and the first step towards the full closure of the last major California aircraft assembly line.
Boeing’s action, which is reversible with increasing cost over the passage of time, comes at the end of almost two years worth of warnings to the US Air Force that it would be faced with shutting down production unless it received a commitment for additional aircraft beyond the 180 already on firm order.
With the last of these due to be produced in 2007, the company has committed $100 million of its own money to protect deliveries of 22 more C-17s - seven in 2007 and 15 in 2008. Boeing is now thought to have identified customers for as many as 18 of those aircraft: four for Australia, four for Canada, one for the UK, three more for the USAF that Congress looks set to add funding for in 2007, as well as two for Sweden and as many as four for a pool of NATO countries.
However, as of 18 August, the company is now thought to be willing to only protect 18 aircraft and has decided to stop paying suppliers to produce parts for the other four. In the meantime Boeing wants an indication from the USAF that it will place money for more C-17s into its five-year budget beginning in 2008, with long-lead money to be provided in 2007.
Boeing maintains that the USAF’s original C-17 fleet requirement, some 220 aircraft, is still valid and that the current 180 order is predicated on the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Programme (RERP) upgrade going through intact for both the Lockheed Martin C-5A and -B. As the RERP decision has yet to be made over the future of the C-5As, Boeing believes the USAF should keep the door open for further production of the C-17s.
In addition, it also maintains that keeping the aircraft alive would allow development of a version meeting the USAF's AMC-X requirement for a theatre airlifter, work on which is to begin in 2012. Under the current plan the last C-17s will now be delivered in mid-2009. Around 7,000 Boeing employees work at the Long Beach production site in California, with a further 18,000 employed at around 700 suppliers spread throughout 41 US states.