FARNBOROUGH England ASL Aviation, an Irish aviation services company, on Wednesday signed a letter of intent to buy up to 10 of Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N) LM-100J commercial freighters as the launch customer for the new turbo-prop airplanes, Lockheed said in a statement.
Lockheed launched the civil variant of its C-130J Super Hercules military transporter in February, saying it expected to sell about 75 or more of the planes to mining and energy firms, and other commercial and government customers in coming years. It said the planes would be priced in the mid-$60-million range.
ASL Aviation said the new planes would replace the L-100 airplanes its Safair unit currently uses to transport cargo and humanitarian relief supplies around the world. Safair currently operates one of the largest L-100 fleets.
The new plane mirrors Lockheed's C-130J military transport and cargo plane, without military avionics and communications equipment.
Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed's aeronautics division, said he was optimistic the company could sell 100 or more of the new planes to replace the 100 L-100 planes it built from 1964 to 1992.
"We're excited about repeating history," Carvalho told Reuters in an interview at the Farnborough air show, adding that sales could potentially exceed the 100-aircraft mark.
Given growing demand for overnight delivery services, he said Lockheed also saw promising prospects for selling the planes to companies such as FedEx and DHL.
He said it would take two to three years before the aircraft was certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Lockheed applied for the certification in January.
Lockheed, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier, is looking to adjacent markets and foreign orders for its weapons to offset weaker U.S. and European defense spending.
Other planemakers, including Brazil's Embraer (EMBR3.SA), are also eyeing potential sales of large cargo planes.
The civil variant was certified by the FAA in 1998, but Lockheed let the certification lapse as it focused on the military C-130J variant, which has racked up over 1 million flight hours worldwide.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter)