Manufacturer is ahead of output schedule and could deliver small orders without jeopardising USAF obligations

Boeing is studying ways to increase C-17 production beyond 15 a year amid signs of new international sales and leases, some the result of further slippages in the Airbus Military A400M programme.

"If several countries showed enough interest we could and would increase the rate," says Boeing C-17 vice-president and programme manager David Bowman. European NATO nations discussed a planned C-17 lease or acquisition earlier this month (Flight International, 12-18 November).

Although not commenting directly on proposals, Bowman says: "We are internally laying out different scenarios about how it can be done. We are looking at how different options meet different needs."

Bowman adds: "We are also getting more interest from individual countries right now, some of which may want to go it alone, and some that would support a concept of pooling."

Although orders would officially be added to the backlog for delivery in 2010 and beyond, Bowman says: "Countries with a small purchase requirement of four aircraft could be delivered within 12 months - while still allowing us to work within the US Air Force schedule."C-17 production is almost five months ahead of schedule, which gives Boeing additional delivery positions without threatening its USAF contract obligations.

The 100th aircraft for the USAF is expected to be delivered in March, rather than the contractural date of early August 2003. The USAF's 93rd C-17 was handed over on 8 November. This aircraft is the 100th C-17 built, with the balance consisting of two test airframes, the prototype and the UK Royal Air Force's four C-17s.

The RAF could take further C-17s. "The UK is asking about outright purchases," says Bowman. It is believed to be discussing options ranging from lease extensions, trade-ins of its current fleet, to taking up to 12 or more additional C-17s. "Certainly the RAF would like to own these aircraft," says Bowman.

Further prospects include Australia and Canada, the latter described as a 50:50 prospect for four or more aircraft. Australia is meanwhile "asking price and schedule questions", Bowman says. Boeing also indicates that discussions with the USAF for an extra 42 aircraft, taking the US procurement to 222 C-17s, are expected to be finalised by early 2004.

Source: Flight International