Boeing Loses Tanker Deal

SPOKANE — It’s an end of an era for Boeing. The Air Force has awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to
Northrop Grumman-EADS
for its next generation air refueling tanker.

The order is worth $40 billion and could lead to more orders as the Air Force replaces its aging fleet of 600 tankers.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne announced the new tanker will be dubbed the KC-45A. The KC-45A is scheduled to begin test flight in 2010 and is scheduled to enter service in 2013 to begin replacing the KC-135 tanker fleet.

The Northrop Grumman-EADS solution is based on an Airbus A300 airframe to be modified in Alabama. Boeing planned to use the 767 airframe for the tanker.

Rep. Adam Smith says he looks forward to reading in detail the Air Force’s justification for the contract award. The Defense Department had previously identified Boeing tankers as highly rated, cost-effective updates to the force, Smith said.

Smith said Boeing had a very competitive bid, and he is disappointed the Air Force did not choose the company. Boeing would have built the tankers, based on the 767, at Everett, Wash.

Without the Air Force order Boeing may have to shut down the line at the Everett factory. The planes would have been turned into tankers in Wichita.

Boeing spokesman Jim Condelles in Seattle says the company won’t make a decision about appealing the award until it is debriefed by Air Force officials about their decision. Boeing believes it offered the best value and lowest risk.

Friday’s decision confirms that the Boeing 767 will eventually be phased out. Condelles says the plane is still for sale and Boeing has 51 passenger and cargo versions of the plane on order. Boeing has said the new 787 would take its place in the market.

Boeing’s workers aren’t taking the news of the Air Force tanker deal well.

A few dozen have started protesting outside a Machinists Union hall in Everett. They had signs made up to celebrate getting the contract — but they’re not using them, since the deal went to Airbus and Northrop Grumman.

Instead, the workers made up new signs, saying “American workers equal best tankers,” and “Our military deserves the best.”

Stosh Tomala, a flight line mechanic who has worked for Boeing for 20 years, says the Machinists are upset because they believe Boeing builds the best tankers, and they expect to lose jobs over this.

Since the late 1940s with the development of the KB-29 tanker, Boeing has supplied nearly all of the aircraft for the Air Force’s tanker fleet. Boeing currently provides maintenance and support for the Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotanker, built by Boeing, and the KC-10 Extender, which was originally built by McDonnell Douglas.

Boeing had previously landed a Air Force tanker lease several years ago but lost it in the wake of an ethics scandal.

Now that the U.S. Air Force has awarded the contract to Northrop Grumman-EADS, Spokane economic development officials say they’ll increase efforts to get the first aircraft at Fairchild Air Force Base.

The base west of Spokane is home of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, which has 34 Boeing KC-135 tankers and is one of four major refueling depots in Air Mobility Command.

Base spokeswoman Sgt. Connie Bias says the Air Force has not yet released the order in which bases will get the new KC-45A tanker aircraft.

Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Rich Hadley says officials will continue to press the Air Force to station the first of the new planes at Fairchild.