Boeing has commenced final assembly of the P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft for the Indian navy at its Renton, Wash., factory.

The contract for eight P-8I aircraft, with an option for four additional aircraft, was signed on Jan. 1, 2009, after Boeing was selected following a global tender by the India government. The contract is reported to be worth over $2 billion.

The P-8I, based on the Boeing’s 737 commercial aircraft, is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon that the American firm is developing for the U.S. Navy.

“India is our first international customer for the P-8 and we are committed to delivering this aircraft on time,” says Chuck Dabundo, Boeing vice president and P-8 program manager. “The timely start of assembly and our in-line production process will allow us to meet our goal and incorporate significant efficiencies as we move forward on the program.”

The assembly work started following the delivery of the aircraft’s fuselage from teammate Spirit AeroSystems on May 29.

Boeing workers have begun installing systems, wires and other small parts into the fuselage. The P-8I’s engines and wings will be installed later this summer, the company says.

The P-8I aircraft will replace the eight Russian Tupolev-142Ms that India currently uses for maritime reconnaissance.