Pentagon tanker study allows for Boeing, Airbus competition

The European company Airbus SAS should be allowed to compete for a multibillion-dollar (euro) Air Force contract that Boeing Co. has held for decades, under a study of options for buying new refueling planes. The study concerns Air Force plans to convert commercial aircraft similar to those built by Airbus and Chicago-based Boeing into tankers that refuel planes in flight, Democratic Congressman Norm Dicks, of Washington state, said Friday.

Dicks, a senior member of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee whose district includes thousands of Boeing workers, said a number of Boeing and Airbus aircraft would likely meet the Air Force requirements. He said it was unfortunate that the study made no definitive conclusions about the timing of the tanker replacement program, which has been delayed by an ethics scandal involving Boeing and the Air Force. Given the age of the existing fleet which averages about 45 years "starting the replacement of these tankers as quickly as possible must be a priority for the Defense Department in the near future," Dicks said in a statement. Dicks released the statement after being briefed Thursday night on the report, conducted largely by the Rand Corp.

The study recommends that the Pentagon weigh other factors besides economics to determine how quickly to solicit bids, Dicks said. It appears to back a defense bill signed by President Bush that would allow open competition for the multibillion dollar tanker contract.

An earlier bill approved by the House would have barred the Pentagon from purchasing goods and services from foreign companies that receive government subsidies. While no companies were named, lawmakers said the amendment was aimed at disqualifying Airbus's parent company from bidding on the tanker contract.

Toulouse, France-based Airbus, which is 80 percent owned by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., has long received subsidies from European governments, sparking tension between U.S. and European officials.

Boeing lost the tanker deal in 2004 amid revelations that it had hired a top Air Force acquisitions official who later admitted giving the company preferential treatment.

The deal would have allowed the Air Force to buy or lease 100 Boeing 767 planes for use as tankers, but was killed by Congress. The Air Force has said it is likely to reopen the deal to competition, but no formal timeline has been set, reported AP.


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