By Graham Warwick in Washington DC
Lockheed Martin is considering protesting against the rejection of its C-130J from the US Army/Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) competition. EADS Casa's CN-235 also failed to make it through the "entry gate" assessment, and only the Alenia C-27J and EADS Casa C-295 will go forward to the "early user survey" later this year. Boeing, meanwhile, has given the US Air Force until 18 August to commit to acquiring additional C-17 airlifters or it will stop spending company money to keep the production line open through 2008.
Lockheed was due to receive a formal debrief on 3 August after the US Army rejected the C-130J because it was not certificated by the US Federal Aviation Administration, a JCA requirement. The company argues its aircraft "is based on an FAA-certified design", as the C-130J was developed as a private venture and is technically a derivative of the commercial Model 328J, which received FAA Part 25 and European Joint Aviation Authorities certification in 1998. The C-27J, CN-235 and C-295 all have civil certification, but the reason for rejecting the CN-235 was not known late last week.
The US Army plans to buy 75 intra-theatre transports and the US Air Force 70, but funding to launch the JCA programme is stalled in Congress because the two services have yet to agree requirements. The C-27J is being offered by L-3 Communications teamed with Alenia North America and Boeing, while the C-295 is being offered by Raytheon teamed with EADS North America.
|Issue of FAA certification ruled out the C-130J - but Lockheed says it is based on an approved design|
Boeing's C-17, meanwhile, is almost out of time. With the last eight of 180 USAF aircraft to be produced in 2007, the company has committed $100 million to protect deliveries of 22 more C-17s - seven in 2007 and 15 in 2008. Boeing has identified customers for 12 of those aircraft: four for Australia, four for Canada, one for the UK and three more for the USAF that Congress looks set to add funding for in 2007.
But Boeing has said that from 18 August, in the absence of a USAF commitment, the company will only protect 12 aircraft and stop paying suppliers to produce parts for the other 10. Although Sweden and a pool of NATO countries are potential customers, "international sales will not buy enough decision time", says Dan Page, director airlift business development.
Boeing wants an indication from the USAF that it will programme money for more C-17s into its five-year budget beginning in 2008, with long-lead money to be provided in 2007. Page, meanwhile, says keeping the C-17 in production would allow development of a version meeting the USAF's AMC-X requirement for a theatre airlifter, work on which is to begin in 2012.