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PAS11: Boeing's iron Eagle


PARIS -- Boeing could continue manufacturing variants of its F-15 Eagle -- a fighter first flown in 1972 -- all the way until the 2020s, the president of its military aircraft division confirmed Tuesday. If Boeing can lock in deals with the air forces of Saudi Arabia and South Korea, it could make new investments "for the long term," Chris Chadwick told reporters, to make its Eagles or Silent Eagles as cheap and easy to produce as they've ever been.

At stake are a total of about 144 aircraft -- the potential for around 84 for the Saudis and some 60 for the South Koreans -- and Chadwick said Boeing is making a pitch very similar to the one it makes for its F/A-18 Super Hornet: The Eagle may not be the newest bird in the sky, but customers can get a familiar fighter for predictable costs, and both the Saudis and the South Koreans will get the convenience of commonality with their existing, older fleets of F-15s.

Boeing is at war with Lockheed over the South Korean fighter deal, but it could have the edge with the Saudis, who are said to like the Silent Eagle. Chadwick said he had no information about that, but he did say the discussions he's seen between the Saudis and the U.S. government, which would be the go-between on a sale, "have been very positive."

Boeing's strategy of keeping its production lines going as long as possible, then offering lower-cost aircraft, which keeps the production lines going, which enables it to offer more lower-cost aircraft -- et cetera -- is a keystone for the aerospace's giant's portfolio. Chadwick also said that Boeing has plenty of new work, too, including the Air Force's KC-46, which drew calls from international customers "within minutes" of DoD's announcement earlier this year, because other air forces want to fly the same tanker as the Americans. But the older jets, like Eagles and Hornets, remain profitable because the company has learned how to crank them out in large volumes.

So does that mean that Boeing could sell Eagles to the U.S. Air Force? If it asked for them, sure, Chadwick said, but he acknowledged the Air Force is locked in to the F-35 and he didn't expect more American sales of F-15s. However, he said there is the possibility that the Air National Guard may want to replace some of its F-15s, but it hasn't asked for any new jets yet.

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