EADS has insisted that its position on bidding for the US Air Force's KC-X aerial refuelling tanker contract remains "unchanged", despite President Nicolas Sarkozy indicating that the company "will bid" after his US counterpart promised a fair competition.

The French president's comments came in the wake of talks with President Barack Obama on March 30. He spoke of his "trust" in Obama's promises of a "fair and transparent" tanker selection process.

EADS has declined to comment on the French president's remarks, but says that the company's position is that the US Department of Defense had yet to address EADS's concerns that the request for proposals "clearly favours a smaller, less capable aircraft" and that the "additional combat capability" offered by EADS's system "may not be fully valued".

EADS, bidding with Northrop Grumman, won the $35 billion KC-X contract in February 2008 and would have supplied 179 Airbus A330-based KC-45 tankers over the next two decades. But the award was overturned by the Government Accountability Office four months later following protests by Boeing, which had proposed a 767-based alternative.

The USAF attempted to rerun the contest this year, but Northrop decided the terms of the evaluation biased the competition in favour of the Boeing KC-767.

EADS chief executive Louis Gallois last month told investors the company has not ruled out an independent bid, but that it would be "impossible" to bid within the USAF's 10 May deadline.

The request for proposal's apparent bias toward Boeing raised complaints of protectionism in Europe. US politicians representing states that stood to gain from an EADS/Northrop win were also furious.

Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama - where assembly of the KC-45 was expected to create hundreds if not thousands of jobs and a new aerospace industry hub - has claimed that the new criteria were "structured to produce the best outcome for Boeing".

Source: Flight International