EADS has floated the possibility of splitting a US Air Force tanker purchase between the Airbus A330 and Boeing 767 to maintain competition over the potential 20-year life of the procurement programme.

The concept "deserves analysis", says Ralph Crosby, EADS North America chief executive, adding: "We would support it. The alternative is 20 years of sole-source procurement."

EADS is encouraged by statements by a senior US defence official that there will be a tanker competition and is in talks with potential US prime contractors. But Crosby emphasises that the acquisition strategy will not be known until after the US Air Force completes its analysis of alternatives for the tanker programme.

An announcement by the European company on establishing a US industrial base for its tanker bid can be expected soon, Crosby says. A tanker capture team has been working for nine months and has been moved under EADS North America Defense - the company formed in September to bid for US military work. "We are actively engaged in preparations and they will get more visible pretty soon," he says.

Although the size of any initial USAF tanker purchase is uncertain, EADS sees a requirement for 300-400 aircraft over 20 years. Because the competing designs are based on commercial aircraft, "there is a foundation for continuing competition between two different tankers, to keep the pressure on pricing", Crosby says. "They do not have to maintain the industrial base because it will be sustained by the commercial market."

Crosby proposes that each manufacturer receive around a third of every tranche of tankers and compete for the remaining third, an acquisition strategy similar to that previously used by the USAF to sustain fighter engine competition between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.

Despite recent revelations on efforts by the previous US Air Force leadership to block EADS from competing for the tanker contract, Crosby says he "cannot imagine, given all that has gone on, that we will not see a straightforward, open procurement process".

Events "have absolutely guaranteed that fair and equitable treatment of competitors will occur", he says.


Source: Flight International