Boeing has unveiled new hopes to revive and refresh the 767 production line for extended commercial and military sales, as it seeks to win the US Air Force's KC-X tanker competition.

The airframer says success in this evaluation will act as a springboard for continued 767-based freighter and tanker orders, keeping the commercial line alive well beyond the current order backlog for 58 aircraft.

 Boeing is proposing to base the KC-767 on a new civil configuration called the 767-200 Long Range Freighter (LRF)

The USAF is expected by December to award the contract to Boeing KC-767 or the larger Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-30, an Airbus A330 derivative.

Unlike the 767 tanker sold to Italy and Japan and which is based on the standard airframe, Boeing is proposing to base the KC-767 on a new civil configuration called the 767-200 Long Range Freighter (LRF). This combines the fuselage of the -200 with elements of the -300, -300F and -400ER.

"I have no doubt that we'll sell a few of the -200LRFs on the commercial market," says Mark McGraw, vice-president of Boeing tanker programmes. McGraw adds that the aircraft should garner new orders in the market for fee-for-service airlifters and tankers.

The USAF will provide funding to certificate the 767-200LRF, which will receive modifications for the tanker role in Wichita, Kansas.

Meanwhile, Boeing's allies in the US Congress say they will seek to boost the USAF's annual orders from 15 aircraft to 20 to 30 aircraft a year, if Boeing wins the estimated $40 billion contract for the first tranche of 179 aircraft.

Anticipating this potential surge of new civil and military orders, Boeing's production team is laying plans to convert 767 final assembly into a U-shaped moving line identical to the 777 production line.

"We'll continue selling the airplane commercially as long as there is demand - and there's still demand," says Scott Carson, president and chief executive for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. In the future, the tanker platform may be used as the basis for the USAF to replace its 707-based military aircraft.

Source: Flight International