DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Despite stiff competition from Airbus, Boeing is confident its KC-46 will ultimately gain a foothold in the Middle East, a company executive said Monday.

“We’ll obviously be talking to those customers out there that have refueling capability today or may have expressed an interest in air refueling capability going forward. In the Middle East, that covers a number of different countries,” Gene Cunningham, Boeing’s vice president of global sales, said during a Nov. 13 briefing at the Dubai Airshow.

However, there are reasons to believe Boeing’s success in the region may be difficult. For one, it will be going up against Airbus’ A330. Boeing’s KC-46 beat the A330 for the U.S. Air Force’s tanker program after a hard-fought, controversial battle, but Airbus’s plane has already finished development and captured customers in the region such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the KC-46’s development has been beset by schedule delays and cost overruns, which — due to the nature of Boeing’s fixed-price contract with the Air Force — Boeing has been forced to cover. So far, Boeing has racked up $1.9 billion in post-tax charges, making international sales all the more important for eventually making the program profitable.

Cunningham acknowledged that the KC-46 has a lot to prove, but said that once the Air Force begins operating the platform, other countries will follow.

“I think what you’re going to find is that as the KC-46 comes into operation, once again you will see the unique capabilities, the advanced capabilities that are represented on the airplane,” he said.

“The airplane that will be released to the Air Force is going to make those performance and operational elements work for the operator, and I think the issues that you’ve seen in the testing process are exactly that: issues that have come up in the testing process and are being resolved as we move forward with the program. So it is a question of put the aircraft out there, show the operation and — like the other Boeing aircraft that have been out there — the performance will speak for itself.”

Boeing also believes there’s a substantial international market for the T-X trainer aircraft it’s pitching to the U.S. Air Force, provided it wins the contract with the clean-sheet design that it is creating with Swedish aerospace company Saab.

“Those countries that obviously are familiar with T-38, are familiar with U.S. training processes and systems, those countries become a very clear market for T-X going forward,” Cunningham said. “We’re going to provide those capabilities in a purpose-built airplane that has the ability to be improved, evolved, as time goes on. So the marketplace becomes even bigger.”

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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