War of Words over KC-X Continues; UK Seals Deal for Airbus Tankers

 - April 15, 2008, 5:06 AM

The intense debate over the U.S. Air Force’s choice of a new tanker continues. Boeing claimed that the KC-767 was found to be “more survivable” than the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) in the USAF evaluation. Northrop Grumman launched a new Web site to refute various allegations about its A330MRTT bid and ask why Boeing did not raise concerns about the selection process earlier. The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) is devoting its next three monthly luncheons in Washington, D.C., to the topic, providing a platform for Northrop Grumman, then Boeing and finally the USAF.

Meanwhile, pending the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s verdict on Boeing’s protest, Airbus has stopped work on the first KC-45 development aircraft. This aircraft was built speculatively and made its first flight at Airbus’ Toulouse, France facility six months before the USAF selected the KC-45. It is now parked at Dresden, Germany, where EADS-EFW was scheduled to fit the large cargo door. From there, it was due to fly to Getafe, Spain, where the refueling system would be added.

However, Airbus has made progress with another A330MRTT customer this month. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) finally signed a service contract with the AirTanker consortium led by Airbus parent EADS, which will supply 14 A330s to meet the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) requirement. This complicated private-finance deal has taken years to negotiate, and was held up recently by the credit crunch, which narrowed AirTanker’s options for funding the aircraft. They will be delivered between 2011 and 2016.

AirTanker will lease five of the 14 to commercial airlines and press them into service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) only in an emergency. In 2004, the MoD rejected a rival bid for FSTA from a consortium that included Boeing. A senior RAF officer told AIN that the RAF prefers the A330 to the 767 because of age and size considerations. “It was cheaper to meet the RAF’s requirement with a smaller number of bigger aircraft,” he said.