Boeing's 767 tanker programme is bracing for fresh scrutiny from US lawmakers, following its exclusion from the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft contest.

A report by the US Department of Defense Inspector General will be released shortly, sources say. The report probes possible links between contract negotiations on the USAir Force's future KC-767 tanker and Boeing's admitted improper hiring of Darleen Druyun, the USAF's former acquisition chief, in 2002.

Exposed late last year, the ethics scandal forced the resignation of Boeing chief executive Phil Condit, the firings of Druyun and chief financial officer Michael Sears and the suspension of an approved US Air Force contract to lease 20 767 tankers and buy 80 more.

The Senate Armed Services Committee plans to hold two hearings in early February, while Senator John McCain may schedule a third with the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. They are expected to focus on industry hiring practices and most observers believe Boeing's $17 billion contract is unlikely to be overturned.

For McCain, who has berated the air force for choosing Boeing's platform in early 2002 without conducting a full analysis of alternatives, the UK's rebuff of Boeing's bid could provide fresh ammunition.

EADS North America is positioning the A330 tanker as a candidate for future USAF orders. The 100-aircraft lease/ buy plan will be followed by new orders as the USAF retires its more than 500 Boeing KC-135s.

Source: Flight International