Boeing [BA] team employees laid the keel beam for the first of four New Zealand P-8A Poseidon maritime aircraft, the company said on March 17.

This keeling occurred at Spirit AeroSystems facility in Wichita, Kan., where all Boeing 737 fuselages, nacelles and pylons are designed and built. The P-8A is derived from a modified 737 aircraft. 

Boeing said while an aircraft keel runs the length of the fuselage belly, the P-8 keel beam differs from the regular 737 keel beam and includes the integration of an internal weapon bay.

New Zealand first signed a contract for four P-8As in 2018. Then, in 2020, Boeing won a $1.55 billion modification to build 18 Lot 11 P-8As for the U.S. Navy, New Zealand and South Korea. At the time, the company said it expected the Royal New Zealand Air Force to start receiving its four ordered Poseidons in 2022 (Defense Daily, March 31, 2020).

Boeing said the panel and other fuselage components will be finished on Spirit’s existing 737 production line whereupon the fuselages will then be shipped to a Boeing Commercial Airplanes facility in Renton, Wash., for final assembly. After assembly, Boeing Defense, Space & Security employees will install mission systems and finish testing before delivering the first aircraft to New Zealand later this year.

The new P-8As are set to replace New Zealand’s aging fleet of six P-3K Orion aircraft for maritime surveillance.

“Our four P-8A Poseidons will better equip our defense forces to extend their reach into the Pacific and beyond, working with our partners and friends,” Rosemary Banks, New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, said during the keel laying ceremony.

Brian Stuart, Boeing P-8 program manager for New Zealand, noted this was not only starting the process for the first New Zealand P-8A, “but we are strengthening our relationships with suppliers like Spirit as well as our U.S. Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force customers.”

The P-8A is primarily used as an anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and maritime surveillance asset to replace older platforms like the P-3 Orion aircraft.