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Report: Senator presses for 'commercial' C-17s

Y'know what you need? A C-17. You could take your friends for a ride, or set up a one-jet airline flying between Butte and Crested Butte, or turn your cargo bay into an apartment and just roam from airport to airport, solving crimes.

Only you can't, because the mean old Federal Aviation Administration evidently won't give the green light to a commercial version of Boeing's flagship cargo plane. That's why Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is urging the FAA to do whatever it takes to endorse a non-military version of the Globemaster III so Boeing can keep building them:

In an effort to create manufacturing jobs and bolster the state economy, Sen. Claire McCaskill is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to quickly certify a commercial version of the C-17 aircraft, manufactured in St. Louis.

This week, Missouri's senior senator sent a letter to the acting head of the FAA, Michael Huerta, asking that the agency allow Boeing to begin producing a variant of the long-time military aircraft for commercial use.

"This certification would support the jobs of hundreds of Missourians who produce parts for and assemble the C-17," said McCaskill, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And there's the rub. Plus it's cheaper and easier for Boeing to try to keep alive this product in a different form than shut everything down, lay everybody off, and try to design a new airplane for potential clients of a big, four engine, wide-body cargo plane. Boeing and the Air Force have been talking about commercial versions or applications for C-17s for years, and there are a few examples of where they've succeeded:

Here's an AvWeek post about a 'commercial' C-17 painted in the livery of the government-operated Qatar Airways. And back in the day, the Air Force studied the potential benefits of unleashing commercial C-17 on the world logistics network, estimating it could save billions by relying more on commercial support and less on its own military airlifters. That system did not materialize, but service officials could dust off those old reports if anyone asks them for an opinion as to whether there should be commercial C-17s.

McCaskill's and Boeing's odds of getting their wish weren't clear Monday, nor was it clear how much time and rigmarole would be involved with an FAA concession here. But Boeing's bid is a clear signal that it and possibly other big players in the defense game could begin to look outside the military world altogether as they try to survive the big crunch. The problem is, what other products would even have a chance of being adopted outside the armed forces? What do you think?

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