PARIS -- Boeing Co. has begun courting potential foreign buyers of the KC-46A refueling tanker it's developing for the U.S. Air Force, company officials said.
The Chicago-based company has already had discussions with several customers about beginning deliveries of the aircraft in 2017 or 2018, according to Chris Raymond, vice president of business development and strategy for Boeing's defense, space and security unit, and Jeff Kohler, vice president of international business development for the unit.
"There are discussions going on with a number of people," Raymond said during a June 16 press conference at the company's Paris office before the start of the Paris Air Show. "There are some initial product, program briefings and stuff that have been coordinated with the Air Force that we're now using."
He said it's too early to name the interested countries, only that they're in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.
The refueling tanker is based on Boeing's 767, a twin-engine jet airliner. The Air Force in 2011 selected Boeing over European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. to develop the military transport version. The program is estimated to cost $52 billion for a total of 179 planes, according to a Government Accountability Office report from March.
Boeing is under contract to deliver 18 aircraft by August 2017, according to the document. The company can't begin sales to foreign buyers until that happens, Kohler said.
"Job No. 1 is to deliver that first tranche to the U.S. Air force," he said. The final aircraft is due by 2027.
The company is participating in discussions with potential customers in full coordination with the service's program office, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Kohler said. The service has handled technical details during conversations "with several of the key customers," he said.
In the GAO report, government auditors found the cost of developing the first four planes will exceed the contract ceiling price of $4.9 billion. They also determined that Boeing already used the vast majority of a reserve budget for development risks, even though five years' worth of work remains.
"Significant use of these funds early in a program may indicate problems," the report states.