Unexpected operational demand pushes fleet beyond one million flight hours mark

Boeing is working with the US Air Force to find ways of securing continued production of the C-17 beyond the end of 2008 until the force can fund the purchase of additional aircraft. The planemaker is thought to have told international customers they have just three months to lock in orders at current prices.

Boeing C-17 W445

 Relief and military operations made unanticipated demands on C-17's

Officially the production line at Long Beach, California is due to terminate with the delivery of the 180th aircraft to the USAF. Boeing is about to deliver its 150th C-17 to the service and, at the current rate of 15 per year, will fulfil its backlog – including up to five additional aircraft for the UK and Australia – by the end of 2008 unless it secures extra orders.

Faced with much higher than expected usage, the USAF is increasingly anxious to protect the long-term availability of its C-17s. The service has listed seven additional aircraft as its first unfunded priority in fiscal year 2007, as part of a $2.4 billion request for “airlift capability upgrades.”

Boeing is now paying suppliers of long-lead items for aircraft 181 and 182 to allow for planned continuation of production at its most efficient rate of 15 per year. “We’re paying the risk for sub-contractors,” says C-17 vice president and programme manager Dave Bowman. “We’re protecting the long lead-items for that, but how long can we do that for? Who knows?

“We are working with the USAF now on different ways to get a winning solution for them,” Bowman tells Flight International. Various options – including slowing down the line – are being explored, but a solution must be found before the next fiscal year begins on 1 October, he says.

Fleet usage passed the one-million-flight-hour mark during a medical evacuation from Iraq on 19 March - an achievement originally expected to be achieved around May 2007. C-17 operations have been greatly accelerated by operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, humanitarian relief work following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the recent spate of hurricanes in the USA. “We’re flying it much more than we planned and it has become the cornerstone of our national defence,” says Gen Duncan McNabb, Commander of US Air Mobility Command.

Australia agreed in March to order three C-17s and take an option on a fourth, while Canada - another long-standing possible user - is expected to make a decision in the near-term. Australia’s first C-17, an aircraft originally destined for the USAF, will be delivered around December 2006. “As far as international customers - the time is now if you want the best price,” says Bowman.


Source: Flight International