Qatar has confirmed plans to order two more Boeing C-17s by the end of the year. The move would double its planned fleet of the strategic transport.

Military officials publicly disclosed plans for the new order after witnessing a ceremonial wing-body join event for Qatar's first C-17 at Boeing's Long Beach production facility in California on 26 March. Boeing and Qatar signed an initial agreement on 21 July 2008 for two C-17s, which are scheduled for delivery in the third quarter of this year.

The additional order offers another international boost to the threatened C-17 production line. Australia (Royal Australian Air Force example pictured below), Canada, Qatar, the UK and a consortium of NATO and Partnership for Peace nations have ordered 18 C-17s so far, while the United Arab Emirates also recently committed plans to buy four.

 C-17 Australia - Oz DoD
© Australian Department of Defence

Other Gulf states, including Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia, are also considered potential C-17 buyers, with interest in the region seemingly driven as much by humanitarian causes as military concerns, says Tommy Dunehew, Boeing international C-17 programme manager.

The wealthy Arab states wanted to airlift relief supplies to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami and Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, but lacked the resources for the mission. Instead, the states had to rely on US airlifters and helicopters, as well as leased Russian cargo aircraft, Dunehew adds.

Ultimately, the future of the C-17 production line depends on a new order from the US Air Force. A follow-on deal for more C-17s could be included in the next request for the fiscal year 2009 supplemental war-spending budget, or the money could be added by Congress.

In November, a top Boeing executive floated the option of slashing annual C-17 production by half, but the company has since backed away from that potential offer, instead suggesting cost reduction improvements to sustain the current rate of about 15 aircraft a year.

Source: Flight International