Can Boeing Make Back Its Investment

While they’re disappointed not to win Korea’s tanker competition, Boeing officials feel there are other opportunities ahead. “Regarding future tanker sales, world-wide interest remains high and we’re talking to a number of potential customers,” a Boeing spokesman told Air Force Magazine on Wednesday. The KC-46 “is a franchise program for Boeing and we feel that with the advanced capabilities it offers it sets the standard for a next-generation, multi-role tanker.” The spokesman did not have an immediate response when asked if there are sufficient sales opportunities to cover Boeing’s investment in the KC-46 above and beyond the Air Force’s development contract funding. By its own admission, Boeing lowballed its tanker bid in the 2011 US Air Force KC-X contest, deeming it a “strategic investment” in a long-term program offering synergies with its commercial product line. Industry estimates peg Boeing’s tanker out-of pocket at upwards of $250 million. Company officials note privately that while the Airbus A330 MRTT has won the tanker contests so far, the numbers don’t stack up to the 179-aircraft commitment the company has with the Air Force, to say nothing of the future USAF KC-Y and KC-Z competitions, where Boeing thinks it will have incumbent advantage. First flight of the all-up KC-46A has been delayed due to a wiring harness design flaw; Boeing officials hope to fly the tanker in August, about six-eight months late.