Further Tanker Woes for the U.S. Air Force

 - October 15, 2008, 12:52 PM

While the U.S. Air Force’s KC-X tanker replacement program is held in abeyance–waiting for the incoming Administration to sort out–the support contract for the service’s existing KC-135 fleet is building into a saga of epic proportions. A U.S. Federal Court ruling on October 1 overturned a previous Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruling, and the Air Force will have to open a third competition to provide Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) for the KC-135.

In June 2005, Boeing joined Pemco (now Alabama Aircraft Industries Inc.) and L3/IS to present a team bid for fiscal year 2008, 10-year contract. In June 2006, however, the Air Force amended its requirements, and Boeing unilaterally ended the teaming arrangement. In June 2007, the service amended the RFP again to allow Pemco/AAII and others to bid for the contract independently. Boeing was announced as the winner last fall, but Pemco/AAII immediately filed a GAO protest, alleging bias by the source selection agency–in this case Charles Riechers, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force. The apparent suicide of Riechers the following month was mentioned in the GAO’s upholding of the protest, an unusual move.

In March this year the Air Force re-awarded the $1.1 billion contract to Boeing, and again AAII protested. The GAO denied the protest, so on June 26 the company filed a lawsuit against Boeing and the U.S. Air Force in the U.S. Federal Court of Claims. The ruling– handed down on October 1–suspends the contract award and orders the Air Force to resolicit the program yet again. With KC-X procurement delayed or even terminated, the need to get PDM for the aging KC-135 fleet back on track is more vital than ever.