US Air Force indecision about future airlift needs is jeopardising Boeing’s ability to preserve the C-17 production line, and a further delay now appears to have caught both parties in a schedule trap.

The deadline for the statutory Mobility Capabilities Study 2005 – which will shape the USAF’s acquisition plans for strategic airlifters and tankers has shifted from last month to February or March 2006. USAF interest in boosting its C-17 order by 39 or 60 aircraft may emerge as a recommendation of the study.

But the new deadline means the study’s results will not be completed until after the USAF submits a fiscal year 2007 budget request in January. Then, getting funds into the FY07 budget would require a supplemental request by the air force or an add-on by Congress.

For Boeing this would come too late. It is ordering parts now for the last current production aircraft to be delivered in FY08. It needs a firm commitment for a major order by January to avoid serious disruptions for long-lead suppliers such as Boeing-St Louis, Honeywell and Vought, says Scott Marcotte, C-17 programme manager.

Boeing has already ruled out a bail-out in the form of a new order from a foreign customer. No other armed forces have a requirement for a new strategic airlifter until after 2008, says Marcotte. Slowing the production line has also been rejected because of cost.

Finding a near-term solution to Boeing’s production crisis may be tricky. Top air mobility leaders have stated a need to increase the size of the C-17 fleet, but outgoing USAF chief of staff Gen John Jumper said in August that going beyond the current order for 180 aircraft is no sure thing.


Source: Flight International