Random notes on yesterday’s tanker hearing, next week’s Farnborough air show

Extraordinaryhearing yesterday … a lot of heat … but also a lot of light … if you had any doubts thatDOD could re-compete the contract without political interference, the hearing offeredample proof that the next round of bidding will be all about politics … DODfaces a really tough situation … they want to conduct a fair and opencompetition in the next round and kind of pretend that politics won’t be interjectedinto the mix … but that appears to be impossible … the bottom line is that thereis now an empowered and politically desperate faction in Congress, which is apotent combination, that will do anything to stop a contract award to NorthropGrumman … and if DOD follows the ground rules laid out during the past week, itis hard to see how Boeing wins without substantially changing its bid … andeven then it’s still hard to see how they can stay competitive based on theground rules … and I say this for 2 reasons … DOD intends to give officialcredit for offering more fuel offload capacity … that certainly doesn’t hurtthe chances for Northrop’s larger aircraft … DOD also wants to give less weightin the evaluation to lifecycle costs, which include long range fuel estimates …since the 767 is the smaller aircraft, and therefore consumes less fuel, this alsodoes nothing to help Boeing’s chances in the second round … so that’s where weare …



FarnboroughAir Show is my favorite week of the year … just the chance to see all of thoseaircraft in the same place … and the industry and military delegations from somany different countries … it’s like a big playground for an aerospace reporter…

Every oneof 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 theirobjections to the Iraqwar by essentially boycotting the show …

This yearthe political drama is very likely to be about this tanker debacle … It’s difficultto overstate the disappointment – and to some extent even disillusionment -with the US acquisition process that I hear when I talked to my European friendsand co-workers at Flight about this whole process … European industry, quitenaturally, believes the best tanker won … and they don’t see the bureaucratic failuresidentified in the GAO report for overturning the contract … they see politicalinterference … to some extent, that may reflect their experience with thesomewhat more politicized nature of their military acquisitions compared to ours… but sometimes perception more important than reality and that really appliesin this case …

Besides thepolitical 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 toLockheed Martin’s update on the F-35 program, which is scheduled for Tuesday … Ithink it’s fair to say there is a lot of skepticism about Lockheed’s ability topull of, in succession, an extremely complicated and aggressive flight testschedule, a rapid production rate increase that starts this month, whilemanaging to keep the price tag truly affordable for the international customers… I’ve found the international press corps to be quite perceptive about theseissues, and I expect them to be especially forceful in their questioning thisyear …

For me, theFarnborough 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 reallygood food and, of course, the open bar at the various receptions, parties anddinners …

There willbe a lot of “news conferences” offering precious little “news” for a reporter likeme with a weekly deadline …

In themidst of all the commotion and noise, there are always a few moments ofinspiration … when the routine of reporting mere data points snowballs into somethingmuch more … with so many official – and unofficial – sources all gathered inone place, these kinds of shows allow you to get to the bottom of things withinjust 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.

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