EADS is promoting the possibility of a US Airbus A330 assembly line if the US Air Force selects the aircraft instead of the Boeing 767 as its next in-flight refuelling tanker. This comes as both manufacturers submit the technical details of their offers in response to a recent request for information (RFI).

"If we had a large enough order for the aircraft, it is not out of the question that assembly could be done in the USA. We're still in very intense discussions with several potential partners," says Gregory Bradford, EADS North America president. Despite a recent last minute rebuff from Lockheed Martin on partnering EADS for the US Navy's Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft, he adds: "Lockheed Martin is never out of the picture."

Air Force secretary James Roche has said that the USAF will spend several months analysing the RFI responses with the goal of deciding by the summer whether to negotiate a lease with one or both companies. Any deal would be subject to Congressional approval before any funds could be allocated.

Boeing is stressing that it has more than 50 years experience in producing tankers and the fact that it has its own refuelling boom design. EADS would have to acquire a boom, but says it has options. Israel is one of the few countries that has developed and produced a boom.

The USAF wants to take delivery of six aircraft in the first year, starting around August 2005, followed by 14 in the second year and 20 a year thereafter.

Both companies concede that negotiating a 100-tanker lease deal within the confines of the Congressional mandate will prove a challenge. There are moves to modify the bill, but at present the USAF is unable to include a purchase option in the lease, must limit termination liability to a year and not pay any more than 90% of the aircraft's first year value over the lease period.

A lease is made more problematic by issues such as insurance for a military operated aircraft and difficulties calculating end of lease residual values.

Source: Flight International