Boeing to pull plug on C-17 cargo plane
Boeing Co. said Friday it plans to shut down the production line for the C-17 military cargo plane in 2009 because of the lack of new orders from the U.S. government.
The aircraft manufacturer notified hundreds of suppliers to stop work on uncommitted planes that often require components to be built as much as 34 months ahead of delivery to a customer. It said it was no longer willing to spend millions of dollars of its own money to make new planes that may never be bought just to keep the production line open.
The C-17 is a large, rear-loading transport plane capable of carrying tanks, armored vehicles, supplies and troops. Among its advantages over commercial cargo planes are its ability to land on short, unpaved runways, fly at low altitude, tight turning radius on the ground, and air defense systems.
Boeing appears to be holding out hope that the threat of a shutdown will spur Congress to authorize the purchase of more aircraft, but the Air Force has said its needs can be met with the 180 C-17s produced or ordered. U.S. Transportation Command originally sought at least 220 of the large transporters, but the ongoing Iraq war has drained the military’s resources and shifted its priorities. Congress added money for three more aircraft in the 2007 Defense appropriations bill, which has yet to pass the Senate.
Boeing still has several of the $200 million planes in the pipeline, including 26 for the Air Force and ones for international customers. Earlier this year Australia ordered four C-17s, which are assembled at a plant in Long Beach, Calif. Boeing is also making some planes for Canada, Britain and NATO.
Boeing’s decision to phase out production means that there will be no commercial version of the C-17. The company tried for years to develop a commercial variant to keep the production line open and reduce the list price, but the idea never took off with shippers and air cargo carriers because of the aircraft’s high cost. Boeing tried to market the plane for project cargo jobs, such as moving oil field and mining equipment to remote locations, but no acceptable scheme to bring down the cost of the planes could be found.
Boeing and the Air Force were even working on a plan to get Federal Aviation Administration certification to modify some of the older units and transfer them to the private sector while the government received new production planes.