Airbus and Lockheed Martin have signed a memorandum of agreement to jointly "explore opportunities" in the US aerial refuelling market, eight years after the European airframer lost out to rival Boeing in a bid to supply new tankers to the US Air Force.

The two partners say that they foresee a "broad spectrum" of opportunities, with Airbus's A330-based multi-role tanker transport at the "heart" of their initiative.

This would range from the "near-term" provision of aerial refuelling services – during potential capacity shortfalls in the USA's operational tanker fleet – to "conceptualising the tanker of the future", the partners say.

Lockheed chief executive Marillyn Hewson states that the two manufacturers are "well positioned to provide the USAF and allies around the world with… advanced refuelling solutions".

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders describes the partnership as a "great industry team" that will provide "the best aerial refuelling technology and performance available under the sun".

The Toulouse-headquartered airframer won a contract to supply the USAF with A330-based tankers in 2008, in partnership with Northrop Grumman. But the tender process was subsequently reviewed, with Boeing winning the deal in 2010 with its 767-derived KC-46 Pegasus.