Air Transportation: February 17, 2001


Boeing and the US Air Force have hatched a scheme that could help with the huge deficit in air transport faced by the US military. The plan is to develop a commercial version of the C-17 cargo plane (the BC-17X) and offer it for sale to air transport companies that need to move oversized equipment such as oil drilling equipment, aircraft engines, or heavy machinery. This market is currently dominated by the Russian An-124, which is leased in commercial service around the world. Boeing would then build 50 more C-17s and at least ten BC-17Xs, the latter sold to commercial carriers. The extra 10 planes would reduce the military's cost of the 50 planes it needs, and would allow it to meet the requirement for 60 more C-17s (set by a recent study panel) while only buying 50 aircraft. The commercial carriers would then buy the ten (or more) BC-17Xs under a deal in which the military would give them a cash incentive to sign a contract that would allow the military to lease the planes (under the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program) in the event of war or some other major crisis. If the plane proves workable, Boeing hopes to sell 30 or 40 of them, which would mean more money for the company, more reserve planes for the military, and a continuing assembly line that would allow the military to buy a few more C-17s several years after the assembly line would normally have shut down. The first BC-17Xs would be delivered in 2004 if carriers order them this year. In related new, the British Royal Air Force will get the first of four C-17s it is leasing from Boeing in May 2001. The planes will be assigned to 99 Squadron. The company hopes that the European transport aircraft program intended to replace the C-17s will fail and the British will buy the planes outright later. --Stephen V Cole


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