Production threatened with 15-month shut-down that could affect Block 3 upgrade

Boeing has warned it may have to shut the AH-64D Apache production line for up to 15 months from late 2006 due to lack of sales - a move that would push up the cost of the US Army's proposed follow-up Block 3 upgrade.

The US manufacturer is due to deliver the last of 501 remanufactured Block 1/2 AH-64Ds to the army in July 2006 and, even assuming the Block 3 upgrade is funded from 2004-5, it would not deliver the first upgraded aircraft until October 2007.

"If we have to shut the line it will incur high costs, and that puts the whole Block 3 programme cost up," says Al Winn, Boeing vice-president Apache programmes.

To bridge the gap, Boeing needs orders for around 35 new or remanufactured Apaches, enough to sustain a rate of up to three a month. "That way there's no real transition costs...there's a high probability we'll fill it with international sales. In fact, the production run for Kuwait should fill part of that gap," says Winn.

Apache modernisation programme manager Larry Plaster says other options include extra A to D conversions and "as many as 20" attrition aircraft for the US Army. Last year the Mesa, Arizona, plant produced 80 AH-64s, while around 65 are due to be rolled out in 2003 before the rate rises again in 2004.

International sales potential could exceed 400 AH-64s, up to 120 of which could be remanufactured A models. Follow-on sales prospects are being negotiated with Greece, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. The attack helicopter is also being offered for new business in Finland, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and Taiwan.

* Boeing has rushed to complete 30 folding blade and "quick disconnect" stabiliser sets for the US Army. The sets, which include provision for storage of the fire control radar on the "turtleback" area on the engine cowlings, allow up to six AH-64Ds to be carried on a single Lockheed Martin C-5 instead of the usual five.

Source: Flight International