The two bidders for the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme submitted final bids last week, and traded blows on the suitability of each other's proposal.

BAE Systems, Boeing, Serco and Spectrum Capital-backed Tanker and Transport Service Company (TTSC) cast doubt on rival AirTanker's ability to meet the January 2008 service introduction date and criticised its choice of new Airbus A330s.

Keith Archer-Jones, managing director of TTSC - which is offering ex-British Airways Boeing 767s - says AirTanker "will find a 2008 entry into service challenging". He also says the A330's size would make it hard to use key facilities such as the Falkland Islands hangar and the runway at RAF Brize Norton, where the tankers will be based.

AirTanker chief executive Robin Southwell, however, insists the consortium, whose members include Cobham, EADS, Rolls-Royce and Thales, could "deliver earlier" than 2008 if it is chosen as preferred bidder in December.

He calls TTSC's 767-300s, which will be 11 years old when the contract is awarded, "cheap, quite old equipment", adding: "We are introducing modern aircraft with a step-change in capability," which could "last much longer" than the 27-year contract period.

Both bidders remain tight-lipped about the number of aircraft they are proposing for the £13 billion ($21 billion) pay-by-use contract, funded by the UK government's Private Finance Initiative. However, TTSC's figure is likely to be around 20, with AirTanker's slightly less.

Archer-Jones says the fact that the 767 has been chosen by Italy, Japan and the US Air Force means it is "rapidly becoming the tanker of choice for the 21st century". Its lower operating costs would deliver £220 million savings over the A330 during the contract term, he says.

Both consortia have given details about their plans to use the aircraft for civil work, between military missions. The 767s will be wet-leased to tour operators and other airlines.

Source: Flight International