Is There a Market for a Civilian C-130?

Photo: Lockheed Martin

The unmistakeable Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules has been a staple of western military forces as a cargo aircraft. A modern civilian version of the “J” model was first shown last spring, which caused some avgeeks and analysis to scratch their heads wondering “why?”. It appears that Lockheed Martin thinks that there is actually a market for the new LM-100J.

This isn’t the first time that the C-130 has seen civilian action. There was an earlier version, the L-100, that was produced until 1992, and these aircraft were used for things like crucial deliveries and disaster relief. Even Delta Air Lines operated a few for a period of time. The original L-100s are aging though and in need of replacement.  Outside of the LM-100J, there are very few options for outsize cargo airlift. Many have been retired for structural issues and high operating expenses.

Source: Delta Museum

The new version, the LM-100J, can haul 35,000 pounds of cargo approximately 2,800 nautical miles, and features significant improvements over the original L-100. The very first delivery of the latest version is scheduled for early 2018.

So, is there a market?

Lockheed Martin certainly seems to think so (or at least enough of a market to sell about 100 of the aircraft) with general manager for Air Mobility & Maritime Missions George Shultz saying, “Our existing L-100 operators have repeatedly shared with us that the only replacement for a Herc is a Super Herc, and we are proud to meet this demand with the LM-100J. There is a significant global requirement for commercial freight operations to support operations in more austere areas. The LM-100J will not only meet these demands, but exceed them by delivering new and unmatched capabilities to the commercial marketplace by transporting cargo on any runway, anywhere, all the time.”

They anticipate the aircraft can be used for heavy cargo, firefighting, airdrops, disaster relief, search and rescue, mining support and more — even tourism, as it becomes more fashionable for those with enough cash to travel to the most remote places of the world (say, the South Pole?). It does bode well for Lockheed that they’re expanding the overall goal of the aircraft beyond cargo and humanitarian aid.  We’re just skeptical that airlines and/or private operators will ever invest in the type.  The LM-100 is unique but it is not cheap to operate, nor common to any other aircraft in the fleet.

Lockheed does have a few letters of intent in for the aircraft so far, including seven intended for ASL, the original launch customer.