FARNBOROUGH, England (Dow Jones)--Denmark on Wednesday became the first nation to sign up for a potential NATO fleet of Boeing Co. (BA) C-17 aircarft.
Denmark signed a letter of intent regarding the long-range cargo planes at the Farnborough International Airshow. If enough other nations join in, the North Alantic Treaty Organisation might achieve its longtime goal of having its own airlift planes to reduce its dependence on the U.S. military.
Boeing welcomed the agreement, but said the C-17 production line faces an imminent shutdown decision unless the U.S. government steps in. NATO probably would buy only a handful of planes, and probably not on the rapid schedule needed to save the line, company officials said.
Given current orders, the last C-17 is scheduled for delivery in 2009; many supplier agreements wrap up before then. Boeing says it needs to find customers for at least 10 more planes to avoid starting the line shutdown next month.
Boeing C-17 program manager Dave Bowman said the company already is developing improvements to the current C-17, as well as a new C-17B that could be ready by 2010.
That new plane would be able to land in a wider variety of places, including sandy beaches, Bowman told Dow Jones. He said it could help the Air Force's Air Mobility Command get its next-generation cargo plane, currently known as AMC-X, more than a decade ahead of schedule, but only if the production line stays open.