More than two decades have passed since Lockheed Martin has produced civilian Hercules cargo aircraft.
The Bethesda, Md.-based defense company says the time is right and the market is ripe for the LM-100J, the civilian version of Lockheed’s C-130J Super Hercules military aircraft. Its predecessor is the L-100.
“It’s a product of a number of years of our customers basically asking us when we would be coming forward with a new version of the legacy L-100 aircraft, which we built for a number of years,” says Ray Fajay, Lockheed director of air mobility business development.
These planes were last produced in 1992, so as they age, the cost of operation and maintenance grow, Fajay says.
Lynden Air Cargo, a freight airline based in Anchorage, owns and operates seven Hercules aircraft with an average fleet age of 35 years old, Richard Zerkel, president of Lynden Air Cargo, says.
“As these aircraft age, they become subject to all kinds of [airworthiness directives], and they just become more expensive to maintain,” Zerkel says. “There’s not a suitable replacement out there.”
The first LM-100J will be delivered in early 2018, though Fajay declined to give a specific price for the plane. There is a present market for 100 aircraft “over a period of years,” he estimates.
“There’s an accessible market of probably somewhere near 300 aircraft,” he continues.
Lynden Air Cargo has participated in several sittings with Lockheed as the company develops the LM-100J. But the airline hasn’t made a decision about whether it will purchase the new plane from Lockheed.
“We’re pleased that they’ve decided to make that commitment,” Zerkel says. “We’ll have to look at market conditions and the economics of the situation at that time.”
Lynden uses Hercules planes for its main markets supporting large projects, oil and gas, construction and mining throughout the world.
The rear cargo door is especially useful, Fajay says.
“That allows our customers, such as the oil and gas industry as an example, able to load spare parts and pipes and other supplies to take to very remote areas around the world where they may have oil operations,” he says.
Hercules aircraft are also built to land on unimproved strips and in remote areas, Zerkel and Fajay say.
“It’s a very niche market,” Zerkel says. “That’s where this airplane really, really works well – the only aircraft that will do what we do with it.”
The LM-100J will have some changes from the legacy L-100. Because of the increases in technology since 1992, Fajay says the plane will have better range and fuel efficiency. Zerkel says it will require a crew of two instead of three, and it will lower its volume to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s stage 4 noise standards.
The plane will also feature newer avionics.
“We’ve completely redone our fleet over the years, glass cockpits and all,” Zerkel says. “But this one will come out of the box with a whole lot of additional capabilities that aren’t currently available in the legacy fleet.”
Many airlines worldwide are getting rid of their freighters in favor of using the bellies of passenger planes. Fajay says the L-100 is still in demand because it doesn’t limit itself to carrying cargo from one point to another.
“I like to refer to it as a swing asset where it can do that job, but it can also do these other special type of jobs in the oil and gas industry, or if there are humanitarian relief operations in place in remote areas like areas in Africa and so forth,” he says. “It can be very easily adapt itself to those types of requirements.”
Zerkel says Lockheed’s new plane is a “good move” for the company. Though heavy movements such as Lynden’s are a niche market, the L-100 is well suited for the job.
“There will always be this type of market,” Zerkel says. “Of course it being a niche market, it does swing wildly, but there will always be that type of market, and I think they [at Lockheed] recognize that.”