MoD pins hopes on Boeing C17 amid Airbus doubts
The Ministry of Defence is facing a new procurement crisis as it tries to boost the strength of its heavy transport aircraft.
As fears grow that the delivery schedule for Airbusâs rival transport aircraft will slip further, The Times has learnt that the MoD is planning to buy three Boeing C17 Globemaster IIIs for about $660 million (Â£337 million). But its plans are threatened by the potential closure of the C17 production line in the United States.
The Royal Air Force wants the additional C17s because it is understood to be impressed by its existing fleet and concerned about the delivery schedule for the Airbus 400M. The MoD, which leased four C17s from Boeing before buying them earlier this year, has already committed to buying a fifth in the new year.
Sources at Boeing have revealed that the British Government is in negotiations to purchase a further three, but this deal will depend on the United States Government continuing the C17 project, which is rapidly running out of orders. If production is maintained, the sixth C17 for the RAF should be delivered in 2009-10.
When Britain said in 2001 that it would lease C17s from Boeing, it caused controversy. Critics pointed out that the Â£769 million deal would cost more than buying the aircraft.
However, the Government originally wanted the C17s as cover while Airbus developed the A400M. Airbus was supposed to start to deliver the A400M this year, but the date slipped to 2008. Several analysts believe that 2009 or 2010 may be more likely. Airbus, which has been dogged by a two-year delay to its civil A380 project, denied that there would be further delays.