Boeing is stepping up pressure on US decision-makers to fund additional C-17 Globemaster III transports in the 2006 defence budget, and warns that without assurance of new orders beyond 2008 it will be forced to slow, or even stop ordering long-lead items as early as next year. The company, which currently builds 15 C-17s a year, has so far delivered around 135 to the US Air Force and also leases four to the UK Royal Air Force.

The company's firm order backlog has dwindled to 45 under the USAF's plan for 180 aircraft, and without fresh orders the Long Beach, California site will deliver its last aircraft around mid-2008. "The C-17 is at a critical juncture in regard to its future," said Boeing airlift business development director Daniel Page. "It needs a contract in the 2006 defence budget to go beyond 2008 production, and it has been the focus for our efforts over the past four to five months."

Alternatives such as reducing the production rate by up to a third to extend the decision window have been abandoned, as "they would drive the cost pretty high", Page told the SpeedNews Aerospace and Defence conference in Los Angeles. Additional foreign military sales have also been delayed by national budget pressures and commitments such as Airbus Military's A400M, he said. Gen John Handy, commander-in-chief of US Transportation Command and commander of Air Mobility Command has made no secret of the USAF's desire for additional C-17s in the past, citing a need for at least 222 aircraft. However, Page said this requirement could grow further as a result of the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review. First indications of how the C-17 will fare in the 2006 budget may be known in late May with the first recommendations of the Senate's Committee on Armed Services.

The USAF is studying an alternative strategy to augment its C-17 fleet modernisation plans by possibly selling off early production lot aircraft to commercial operators to help fund the purchase of more capable aircraft.


Source: Flight International