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Airbus to stay out of contest for Air Force One

The move leaves Boeing as the only potential bidder to replace the current 747s. The possibility of a foreign aircraft maker's building the president's plane had rankled some in Congress.

January 29, 2009|Peter Pae

The parent of European aircraft maker Airbus said Wednesday that it would not enter the competition to build a replacement for the president's 747 Air Force One, a move that all but leaves Boeing Co. as the only potential bidder for the prestigious airplane contract.

The decision is likely to quell criticisms that began to mount in recent days, particularly from "buy American" proponents in Congress who have derided the possibility that a U.S. president could fly around in a European-designed airplane.

"Outsourcing Air Force One is not an option. It's un-American," said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) as he proposed legislation Monday prohibiting the awarding of the contract to a foreign firm. "Are we going to replace the American apple pie with crepes?"

This month the Pentagon took the first steps in replacing the world's most photographed aircraft by requesting information from potential providers, including Airbus. Boeing and archrival Airbus are the only two companies capable of building an aircraft as large and sophisticated as that used by the U.S. president.

The Air Force, which operates and maintains the president's aircraft fleet, is looking at buying three new planes to replace two Boeing 747 jumbo jets that were built nearly two decades ago. Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, has built presidential jets since the 1960s. The first new plane is slated to enter service as early as 2016.

The prospects of an Airbus Air Force One, however, prompted heated debates over what really is made in America given that Boeing planes also have a significant number of parts made overseas.

A spokesman for the U.S. unit of Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. said the decision was based not on political considerations but on a business case that didn't make sense.

The company said it would remain focused on winning back a multibillion-dollar contract to build refueling tankers for the Air Force it won with Century City-based Northrop Grumman Corp. last year. The contract award, which would have involved assembling the planes in Alabama, was overturned after a protest from Boeing on procedural grounds.

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peter.pae@latimes.com

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