hearing yesterday ... a lot of heat ... but also a lot of light ... if you had any doubts that
DOD could re-compete the contract without political interference, the hearing offered
ample proof that the next round of bidding will be all about politics ... DOD
faces a really tough situation ... they want to conduct a fair and open
competition in the next round and kind of pretend that politics won't be interjected
into the mix ... but that appears to be impossible ... the bottom line is that there
is now an empowered and politically desperate faction in Congress, which is a
potent combination, that will do anything to stop a contract award to Northrop
Grumman ... and if DOD follows the ground rules laid out during the past week, it
is hard to see how Boeing wins without substantially changing its bid ... and
even then it's still hard to see how they can stay competitive based on the
ground rules ... and I say this for 2 reasons ... DOD intends to give official
credit for offering more fuel offload capacity ... that certainly doesn't hurt
the chances for Northrop's larger aircraft ... DOD also wants to give less weight
in the evaluation to lifecycle costs, which include long range fuel estimates ...
since the 767 is the smaller aircraft, and therefore consumes less fuel, this also
does nothing to help Boeing's chances in the second round ... so that's where we
Farnborough Air Show is my favorite week of the year ... just the chance to see all of those aircraft in the same place ... and the industry and military delegations from so many different countries ... it's like a big playground for an aerospace reporter ...
of these big shows always has political drama ... back in the 2003 Paris Air Show,
I remember it was all about Rumsfeld's decision to punish the French for their
objections to the
This year the political drama is very likely to be about this tanker debacle ... It's difficult to overstate the disappointment - and to some extent even disillusionment - with the US acquisition process that I hear when I talked to my European friends and co-workers at Flight about this whole process ... European industry, quite naturally, believes the best tanker won ... and they don't see the bureaucratic failures identified in the GAO report for overturning the contract ... they see political interference ... to some extent, that may reflect their experience with the somewhat more politicized nature of their military acquisitions compared to ours ... but sometimes perception more important than reality and that really applies in this case ...
Besides the political posturing, I will be looking at a few other major themes of the show ... it will be interesting to see how journalists from around the world react to Lockheed Martin's update on the F-35 program, which is scheduled for Tuesday ... I think it's fair to say there is a lot of skepticism about Lockheed's ability to pull of, in succession, an extremely complicated and aggressive flight test schedule, a rapid production rate increase that starts this month, while managing to keep the price tag truly affordable for the international customers ... I've found the international press corps to be quite perceptive about these issues, and I expect them to be especially forceful in their questioning this year ...
For me, the Farnborough event will be a familiar blur of press conferences, interviews, meetings, cocktail receptions, working dinners and late-night writing sessions ... Sleep deprivation and commuting hassles are only partly offset by all of the really good food and, of course, the open bar at the various receptions, parties and dinners ...
There will be a lot of "news conferences" offering precious little "news" for a reporter like me with a weekly deadline ...
In the midst of all the commotion and noise, there are always a few moments of inspiration ... when the routine of reporting mere data points snowballs into something much more ... with so many official - and unofficial - sources all gathered in one place, these kinds of shows allow you to get to the bottom of things within just a few days in a way you never could otherwise ... and that's probably why I never get tired of it, despite all of the exhaustion and frustration.