PARIS -- Lockheed Martin Corp. is considering developing a new cargo plane for the commercial air freight market based on the C-130J Super Hercules military transporter, an official said.
The Bethesda, Md.-based company, the world's largest defense contractor, may build at least 70 of the planes to replace the aging fleet of L-100 aircraft, some of which entered service in the 1960s, according to Jack Crisler, vice president of new business for air mobility, special operations and maritime programs at Lockheed.
"We think that taking advantage of the technology that it's in the C-130J and coming up with a certified version of the aircraft, an L-100J, if you will, may make a lot of sense," he said in an interview Thursday at the Paris Air Show.
Of the 115 L-100s Lockheed built, about 70 are still in use around the world for remote mining, oil drilling and exploration, and other missions, Crisler said. The company was approached with the idea of developing a new model by a couple of the dozen or so firms and governments that operate the plane, he said.
The C-130J is a four-engine, medium-sized turboprop developed in the 1990s for the U.S. military. More than 330 of the aircraft have been ordered from more than a dozen customers around the world, according to a Lockheed briefing from the show.
The platform, which costs about $80 million apiece, offers advantages over the legacy L-100s, including 33 percent more fuel efficiency, room for two additional pallets and easier maintenance, Crisler said.
Lockheed is reviewing the business case and possible financing options for developing a commercial version, Crisler said. "By this time next year, we will have a very good idea of what the aircraft will look like," he said.
In the military market, Embraer SA, based in São José dos Campos in Brazil, is challenging Lockheed with the KC-390, a twin-engine, jet-powered aircraft.
Crisler said Lockheed takes "all competition seriously," but defended the C-130J as "the most effective pallet- and people-moving machine in the world." He also touted the aircraft's performance during the past decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying a propeller-driven engine is better able to handle a foreign object or debris than a jet engine. "This is a medium tactical airlift," he said. "It is meant to fly in the dirt."