Even as Boeing’s KC-46A struggles with testing and meeting schedule, Boeing is already marketing the next-generation tanker to potential customers in the Middle East.
There is high demand for tankers in the turbulent region, with the US Air Force currently supporting Saudi Arabia combat operations in Yemen with air refuelling.
During the Dubai air show, Boeing courted countries looking to switch or augment their tanking capabilities, says Gene Cunningham, vice president of Global Sales for Boeing Defense.
“When you look at things like tanking capability, there’s almost never enough and assets are being used and shared across the region,” he says. “In many cases I think you’ll find customers would be trying to add capability and not substitute.”
But Boeing could struggle with its tanker pitch because new testing issues continue to slow progress on the KC-46 and cause the programme to fall behind the USAF’s schedule. Boeing has narrowed down the number of critical deficiencies on KC-46, but the company has still taken a $329 million hit to cover the costs of several design changes on its first tranche of production aircraft.
Boeing could also face tough competition from Airbus, which has existing ties in the region. The company has delivered its A330 tanker to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and was selected by Qatar in 2014 for a two-aircraft deal, although a contract has yet to be signed.
When asked how Boeing would reassure Middle East customers that the tanker could meet schedules, Cunningham said the aircraft’s performance for the USAF would reassure potential buyers.
“The airplane that will be released to the Us Air Force is going to make those performance and operational elements work for the operator. I think the issues you’ve seen in the testing process are exactly that, issues that are being resolved as we move forward with the programme,” he says. “Put the airplane out there, show it in operation, and the performance will speak for itself.”