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The end is in sight for the C-17

FARNBOROUGH, England – The C-17 Globemaster III, the cargo plane that the Air Force literally could not stop buying, may at last be nearing the end of its run.

Boeing Mobility vice president Tommy Dunehew told reporters at the air show here Wednesday that the current order book of 24 airplanes takes its production of C-17s to “fall of 2014,” and then the line goes dark.

Naturally, he exuded the standard air show optimism and confidence that Big B would be able to keep this party going for longer: “We’re still very positive for future sales of C-17,” he said.

As soon as new prospective international clients get a taste of this sweet, sweet airlifter, Dunehew said, they’ll be hooked.

“Once a customer gets the airplane, they tend to come back and get more because of the performance of the airplane,” he said.

C-17 is “a model program,” Dunehew boasted; “there’s no risk with it.” Boeing has delivered its last 200 airplanes on time and on cost, he said.

The sound bite: All these international air forces would be fools not to buy them!

Problem is, Boeing doesn’t necessarily have the kind of pull with their legislatures the way it did with Congress, which stuffed C-17s into the Air Force like a Thanksgiving turkey. The other problem is the new kid in town – EADS’ A400M, which is also on display at the air show here.

EADS has built its four-engine turboprop airlifter to fit into the niche between the C-17 and Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules, and it could well peel away some of sales that Dunehew and his colleagues are hoping for.

Who knows? If the much-discussed international prospects don’t materialize, the C-17 battles of the Secretary Gates era could reignite in Washington – if there’s even still a Defense Department budget then.

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