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Airbus Can Enter Bidding for Tanker, Official Says

June 11, 2004|From Reuters

Europe's Airbus has qualified to compete with U.S. rival Boeing Co. to provide the Pentagon with aerial refueling tankers if the bidding is reopened, Air Force Secretary James Roche said in an interview published Thursday.

"I don't care if the planes are made by Martians," Roche told the Financial Times. "Airbus was not prepared before; now they are."

The comments suggest that the Air Force is preparing for possible long delays in upgrading its tanker fleet. They also show that Boeing could face stiff competition.

Before a contracting scandal derailed its acquisition plans last year, the Air Force chose Chicago-based Boeing's 767 over the Airbus 330 for a $23.5-billion deal to lease 20 and buy 80 new tankers.

The 767 is "the only solution that fulfills all 26 of the Air Force's stated requirements," said Boeing spokeswoman Deborah Bosick. The North American division of Airbus unit EADS had no comment.

Roche said he favored more European access to U.S. aerospace contracts to spur transatlantic competition: "It's the only way we're going to discipline the big airframe makers in the United States."

The Pentagon put the tanker deal on hold Dec. 1 after Boeing fired its chief financial officer for recruiting an Air Force official who was still overseeing negotiations on the tanker deal.

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