Qatar has aided Boeing's at-risk C-17 production line by signing a new deal for two airlifters that buys the country's first-ever strategic transport capability and its first US-made military product.
Sales of the C-17 have largely been driven by military airlift requirements, but Qatar is among the first customers to name humanitarian operations as a key role in its decision.
"This agreement marks a new era in Qatar's ability to provide strategic airlift in support of our military and humanitarian operations," says Maj Gen Hamad bin Ali Al-Attiyah, chief of staff of the Qatar armed forces.
The contract signing came just days after the Farnborough air show, where Boeing executives declined to answer questions about Qatar's interest in the C-17.
Qatar is structuring the acquisition in a unique way. The country is contracting with Boeing to deliver the two aircraft in the third quarter of 2009 and with the US government to manage logistics support.
The deal makes Qatar the fourth international customer for the C-17, following Australia, Canada and the UK. Total foreign orders now amount to 16 aircraft, adding to the 190 ordered by the US Air Force.
But several new orders could be imminent. NATO is expected to complete a deal for two aircraft, while Boeing is also waiting for the US Congress to approve a $3.2 billion budget add-on to buy 15 more C-17s for the USAF.
In the long term, Boeing hopes to keep C-17 production alive by modifying the aircraft for tactical airlift missions. A $2 billion upgrade proposal would add a third landing gear and more powerful engines, among other enhancements.
The C-17B proposal faces a competitive threat from the Airbus Military A400M airlifter, which EADS North America plans to introduce into the US market during the next decade.