Show report Australia 2003 - Qantas joins Airbus in RAAF bid

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Proposal for A330-200s will compete against expected offer of 767s from Boeing for Australia's air tanker project

Airbus has teamed with Qantas Defence Service and EADS to bid for the Royal Australian Air Force's replacement in-flight refuelling tanker. Airbus will offer A330-200 Multi-Role Tanker Transports, competing against an expected bid from Boeing offering 767s.

The move comes a month ahead of the expected release of a request for tenders (RFT) for the A$1.7 billion ($1 billion) programme. A final requirements review is under way.

The Australian Defence Material Organisation (DMO), however, warns that the tender release is still dependent upon final approvals.

The DMO said last month that "Air 5402 remains scheduled for project approvals in 2003 and the associated planning date for release of the RFT is March 2003. This date is subject to change depending on the timing of project approval."

The requirement is expected to be for four new in-flight refuellers, with the first aircraft to enter service by December 2006. The tender will also seek options on a fifth aircraft, the fitting of an upper-deck cargo door to allow dual use as freighters, and an electronic warfare self-protection suite common to the RAAF's Boeing Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft.

Qantas Defence's decision to join the Airbus team comes despite the company beingcourted by Boeing as part of its 767 bid on the basis that Qantas Airways already operates the aircraft commercially.

Qantas Defence says the company rejected the overtures because the airline plans to phase out its 767s over a 10- to 15-year period in favour of A330s. The requirement is for the new tankers to have a service life of 20 to 30 years.