Italian Air Force to decide soon on replacement for ageing tanker/transports

Boeing's 767 tanker/transport proposal has come out ahead of an EADS/Airbus bid in a series of analyses by the Italian defence ministry to replace the air force's four Boeing 707s currently used in the role.

A government decision is expected "within a month" on procuring the 767TT rather than the A310 or A330, defence sources say. Overturning the recommendation in favour of the European solution is considered "unlikely" at this stage, say the sources.

Four aircraft are to be acquired with options on two more at a cost of around $700 million. Deliveries are to start in 2004 as the Italian air force moves to replace 707s which are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and operate.

It has not been decided whether the aircraft should be equipped with three hose and drogue refuelling systems or whether the fuselage unit should be a flying boom to give maximum flexibility. A boom could also be used to refuel the 34 Lockheed Martin F-16s that the air force is to lease.

According to military sources the 767 has been selected as it offers a better combination of performance and cost. The A310 was considered "short legged" while the A330 was reckoned to exceed the requirement, too expensive and technically unproven. It was also too big and heavy to operate from many Italian air force runways, say the sources.

The EADS Airbus strategy has also been criticised, with the German element pushing used A310s while the French side was pushing Italy to become the military A330 launch customer.

Airbus' response to the Italian defence ministry's requirement for 100% offset has been criticised by Italian industry sources which say the packages on offer were insufficient and undetermined. Primarily, the proposals were indirect offset linked to the A400M military transport and A380 work. Boeing meanwhile has offered long-term links across its 767 tanker/transport programme.

Source: Flight International