A senior Boeing executive says he is “encouraged” by the House Appropriations Committee decision to add eight C-17s to the defence budget.

The add-on to the Obama administration’s Fiscal 2009 war supplemental request marks the third time lawmakers have intervened to extend C-17 production after the Department of Defense omitted funds for the programme internally.

“It sort of suggests that there will continue to be some discussion about this as we go through the summer and the fall,” says Chris Raymond, Boeing’s vice president of business development.

But the add-on also showed that support for the programme continues to dwindle. In the FY07 budget, Congress added funds to purchase 15 C-17s beyond the US Air Force’s programme of record for 180. A year later, Congress added funds for only 10. That number continued to decline by two more this year.

“Our job is to look at our production facilities and make sure we’re prepared to deliver on whatever orders that we get,” Raymond says. “If it’s eight we have to figure out how we adjust to deliver that.”

In November, Chris Chadwick, Boeing’s president for the military aircraft sector, told reporters that the company was analyzing how to reduce C-17 output by nearly half to eight per year without dramatically changing the aircraft’s price tag.

“If we do that we believe there’s demand out in the world internationally but also domestically that we can keep that production line going for a long time,” Chadwick said in November.

Meanwhile, Boeing also has filled in production slots by signing deals with international customers, including the UK, Australia, Canada, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“Right now we’re just focused on being as aggressive as we can be internationally, knowing that will never completely support the production line,” Raymond explains.

The House committee’s decision to restore C-17 funding starts an at least four-month-long legislative process. Senate appropriators next will propose their own version of the FY09 supplemental bill. Both versions also must be voted on and agreed to by both chambers before it is delivered to the White House.

Boeing is also hopeful that another dynamic about the current C-17 debate may change. The US Air Force is currently restricted by Congress from retiring the Lockheed Martin C-5A fleet.

“I also know there’s been some discussion about the retirement language on the C-5 in some quarters of our political system,” says Raymond. “I think you heard some quarters of the DOD leadership answer questions about the C-17 in the context of the retirement language we have on the C-5. I just think there are a lot of issues to play out on C-17.”

Source: FlightGlobal.com