June 12, 2006

C-17's chances improve in Long Beach

Copley News Service

The prospects for keeping Boeing's C-17 production line in Long Beach running beyond 2008 improved this week with two more legislative actions to buy more of the long-range Air Force transports than the 180 currently authorized.

The latest action was the agreement Thursday evening by a House-Senate conference committee to include $227.5 million for advance procurement of more C-17s in the $94.5 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the war on terrorism and Hurricane Katrina relief.

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The advanced components would be used for aircraft to be bought in fiscal year 2008, which would be above the $2.6 billion included in the fiscal 2007 defense budget to buy the last 12 of the authorized C-17s.

The compromise, reached after a prolonged argument over what would be included, virtually ensures the emergency spending bill will pass both chambers, probably next week. The agreement reduced the total funding to the limit set by President Bush, which ensures the measure will be signed into law.

And on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee's defense panel approved a $427.4 billion Pentagon funding bill for 2007 that includes $789 million for advanced components for three more C-17s in 2008. Most of that money was shifted from an account the Pentagon requested to close the Long Beach line.

C-17 production employs more than 6,500 workers in California, most of them at the Long Beach plant. Thousands more are employed nationally making the engines and other components

The House and Senate Armed Services committees also have provided funds in their versions of next year's defense authorization bills to buy more C-17s in 2008.

Both panels also shifted the money proposed for closing the line to advanced procurement. The House has approved its bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has joined virtually the entire state congressional delegation in supporting continued purchase of C-17s, said the supplemental funding "sends a clear message to the Pentagon and the (Bush) administration that Congress believes that closing the line would be a serious mistake.

"This funding would allow the production line to remain open beyond 2008 and ensure that if more C-17s are requested and funded, there will be no disruption in the production process," Feinstein said in a statement.

Although the past commanders of the U.S. Transportation Command have said they need at least 220 C-17s to meet the demand for long-range airlift, the administration's 2007 defense budget proposed ending production at 180 and provided money to close the line.

But then the Air Force put the purchase of seven additional C-17s at the top of its unfunded priorities list.