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Boeing Maps Export Strategy With U.S. Air Force on Jet Tankers

Boeing Co. and the U.S. Air Force are starting to plan an export strategy for the KC-46A tanker even as they work on the delivery of the first 18 aerial-refueling planes before 2018.

“We would anticipate international orders for the KC-46A tanker will line up with the Air Force production profile,” Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s defense chief, said today in London at a briefing on the eve of the Farnborough air show. Overseas shipments may come as soon as 2017, after U.S. handovers.

Discussions with the Air Force’s international affairs office are under way to market the plane and prepare export licenses for overseas sales campaigns, said Chris Raymond, vice president for business development at Boeing’s defense unit.

Export deals for the new tanker would follow similar sales for the C-17 military transport. The Air Force and Boeing worked jointly to drum up interest, and in some cases the service agreed to cede near-term production slots to help satisfy overseas demand for the plane. India, Singapore, and Brazil are among the countries that have expressed interest in tankers.

Boeing’s chief competitor for international tanker orders is Airbus SAS, which has sold its model, based on the A330 jetliner, to Australia, the U.K., United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Toulouse, France-based Airbus lost to Boeing in February 2011 for the right to build the initial batch of U.S. tankers.

KC-46A production is planned at a rate of 15 planes a year, with a possible boost to about 24 jets annually if demand warrants, Muilenburg said. The Boeing tanker is based on the Chicago-based planemaker’s 767 model.

Boeing expects to meet the U.S. military’s demands for the tanker on cost and schedule, Muilenburg said. “My confidence on that continues to grow,” he said.

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