The US government is eyeing the UAE and Canada as possible initial foreign buyers of the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft built by Boeing Co and Bell Helicopter, a top US Marine Corps official told Reuters.
Lieutenant General Terry Robling, deputy Marine Corps commandant for aviation, said US officials were continuing to drive down the cost of the aircraft and hoped to sell it to allies overseas to keep the production line running past 2018.
US officials plan to show off the aircraft, which flies like an airplane but tilts its rotors to take off and land like helicopter, at the Farnborough Air Show outside London in July. It also made appearances at the Dubai and Singapore air shows in recent months, Robling told Reuters aboard a military aircraft after a Marine Corps event at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc, and Boeing issued a news release in December after the Dubai air show, saying the aircraft had received “significant interest” from potential customers, but it did not identify them.
Boeing and Bell have been trying to generate foreign interest for years, but potential buyers were holding back to see how the plane did in combat, and because of the relatively high price of buying and operating the plane — both of which are now coming down.
Robling said the UAE was one of the countries that had expressed interest in the aircraft, but had not received formal pricing and technical information for the Osprey.
Robling said the plane’s operating cost was declining from rates as high as $12,000 per flight hour to an all-time low of $8,300 achieved last month. He attributed the decline to a variety of factors, including more reliable parts and different flying protocols that cut down on maintenance needs.
He said Boeing and Bell Helicopter had also been working to reduce the cost of producing the planes. The companies recently submitted a letter with a “not-to-exceed” price for the new multiyear agreement, which achieves the 10-percent cost savings required for congressional approval, Robling said.
Now, the government will start tough negotiations with the contractors to iron the details, Robling said, adding the process could take six to eight months.
Boeing has said it expects to sign the new multiyear agreement by the end of 2012.
Marine Corps Commandant James Amos this month told US lawmakers that the Osprey, which can cruise at 290 miles an hour — twice the rate of military helicopters — has performed “exceedingly well” since being put into operation. He said it gives US and coalition forces a “maneuver advantage and operational reach unmatched by any other tactical aircraft.”