Boeing wants a firm commitment from the Air Force to keep
operations running in Long Beach.
WASHINGTON -- Boeing officials said Monday they were
confident that a new military global mobility study would
show the need for many more C-17s and that there were
customers interested in buying at least 40 commercial
versions of the long-range transports.
But they will need
a firm commitment from the Air Force to buy at least 12 more
C-17s in the fiscal year 2008 defense budget to keep the
Long Beach production line going long enough for that to
happen, the officials said.
Without funding for 12 more C-17s in the new budget,
which should go to Congress in February, Boeing would have
to shut down the line by December 2009, said David Bowman,
C-17 program manager, in a telephone conference call.
The C-17 program employs about 6,000 workers in Long
Beach and thousands more elsewhere in California and
Despite an earlier mobility study that said at least 222
C-17s were required, the Air Force announced last year that
it would buy only the 180 Globemaster IIIs under contract.
As a result, Boeing informed its suppliers in August to stop
making parts for additional aircraft. The company had
already spent "tens of millions" of its own money to keep
the supply chain going in the hope of additional sales,
Then Congress overruled the Air Force and provided funds
for 10 more C-17s in the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
Those planes -- and expected orders for 15 more for U.S.
allies -- will keep the line going an additional year.
To extend the line beyond that, based on a 30-month lead
time for components, Bowman said, Boeing will need a
Pentagon commitment for "a minimum of 12" more transports in
the new budget. Those plus the expected international buys
would fill out the optimum production run of 15 a year and
keep the line going through the fall of 2010, he said.
Bowman noted that Congress ordered the Pentagon to
complete a new study of airlift requirements, but that would
not be completed before Boeing would again have to cut off
the supply line.
"It would be a travesty to allow this production line to
permanently shut down before clearly assessing and
understanding our nation's strategic and tactical mobility
requirements," Bowman said.
John Sams, Boeing's director of Air Force programs, noted
that the Air Force has "an opportunity to solve the airlift
requirements of our nation for the next 30 years, as long as
we don't stop short on C-17 production and then cause
another problem further down the road."
Boeing could restart the line, but that would cost the
nation a lot more, Bowman added.
Boeing has been trying to promote a commercial version of
the Globemaster, called the BC-17. Although it has no firm
orders, Bowman said it has been working with half a dozen
potential customers who could buy "40 or more C-17s."
"I think we can get an order in months, if the customers
who are interested right now know there was a sustaining
line to carry us through the two- to three-year timeframe"
required to modify the military C-17 and to get Federal
Aviation Administration certification for the commercial
version, he added.
But it would require additional Air Force buys to keep
the line going at an efficient rate because the potential
commercial customers could not buy enough to sustain the
15-a-year production, Bowman said.