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Australia in wings as Boeing P-8 production starts

Production of the first Boeing P-8A Poseidon has begun, as negotiations continue for Australia to join the US Navy's Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft programme. The 737 derivative is to replace the navy's Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions from 2013.

Assembly of the fuselage for the first of five P-8s in the development programme - three flight-test and two ground-test aircraft - started at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas in early December. The fuselage for aircraft T-1 will be shipped to Boeing's 737 final-assembly plant in March 2008, is scheduled to roll out next August and fly in March 2009, following loads calibration. Development flight-testing will begin in September 2009, after its mission system has been installed.

"We are on track and entering build of the first five aircraft with highly certain dates because we are integrated with the 737 production line," says Bob Feldmann, Boeing vice-president and P-8A programme manager.

Australia last July decided to join the MMA programme, and is negotiating a memorandum of understanding to participate in spiral development of the P-8. The first round of negotiations was completed in October and a second is planned for February, says Capt Mike Moran, the USN's P-8 integrated product team lead. The navy, meanwhile, is beginning to define the aircraft's first capability upgrade spiral, he says.

India recently began evaluating cost proposals for its maritime patrol aircraft requirement, having assessed the P-8I, an Airbus A319 derivative from EADS, Ilyushin's Il-38, a modified Dassault Falcon 900 offered by Israel Aerospace Industries/Elta Systems, and a remanufactured P-3 from Lockheed.

Canada is meanwhile considering abandoning the incremental upgrade of its P-3-based CP-140 Auroras and buying new aircraft, with a decision expected by the end of 2007. However, Moran says: "We have not had any discussions with the Canadians."

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