Air Transportation: July 15, 2004


Boeing and the U.S. Air Force are preparing another plan to offer,  to U.S. air-freight companies, a commercial version of the C-17 long-range cargo plane. Theres a booming market for the transport of oversized cargo such as oil-drilling equipment and heavy construction vehicles, currently being moved by freighter versions of the Boeing 747-400 and the Russian Antonov An-124. A commercial C-17 fleet could fly around business cargos during peacetime, and be utilized by the Air Force when needed, similar to the Civilian Air Reserve Fleet. Federal Express (FedEx) and Evergreen International have expressed an interest in using the  C-17 this way.

Then there is the competition. The Russian Antonov An-124 cruises at a speed of around 800 to 850 kilometers per hour, it can carry a maximum payload of over 240,000 pounds around 4500 kilometers or trade off payload for full fuel tanks for a range of 16,500 kilometers. There are around 20 An-124s in commercial service, out of the total fleet of 60 aircraft. The An-124s have have transported everything from General Electric GE90 aircraft engines to a 109 ton locomotive, as well as  a world record carry of a 135 ton Siemens electric generator. In comparison, the C-17 cruises at around 800 kilometers per hour, and carries a payload of up to 170,000 lbs around 3860 kilometers (or longer with aerial refueling.) 

Boeing thinks theres a commercial market for at least 20 to 30 C-17s. The Air Force would likely put older-model C-17s out on the market so they could replace them with the latest models from Boeings production line, and get new enhancements like additional fuel tanks and better communications equipment. Currently, the Air Force expects to buy a fleet of 180 C-17s, but would like to have at least another 42 C-17s available for use. In 2000, the Air Force wanted to use the sale of C-17s to commercial customers to help fund the purchase of more military planes (the more C-17s are made, the cheaper each one is). Doug Mohney


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