Andy Nativi/GENOA

Italy is to announce in the next few weeks the air force's choice of a new tanker-transport aircraft, to replace four Boeing 707s.

The air force has presented its proposal to parliament and has received the defence committee's green light. The programme will have a maximum estimated cost of L1,480 billion ($726 million) and will stretch to 2009.

The air force requires an initial aircraft for evaluation and will then buy another three aircraft, with a possible option for a further two, to create a six tanker-transport fleet. The air force also wants the winner to accept the 707s as a trade in.

A request for information was issued last October. Airbus and Boeing are competing for the contract, with the former offering the A310 or the larger A330-200 and the latter bidding the 767-200. Bids include outsourcing maintenance to Italian flag-carrier Alitalia. Defence ministry sources suggest the air force has discarded the A310, but it is wary of becoming the A330 tanker-transport launch customer. The 767 is generally considered low risk and is well-proven.

Another option is for the air force to take used A310/A330/767s refurbished to zero-hours airframe life. This is not thought to be an option because of the experience of maintaining the elderly707s. Acquiring new aircraft, however, would consume more funding.

This in turn could have an effect on other programmes including a new maritime patrol aircraft to replace Italy's Dassault Atlantics. The air force is seeking direct and indirect offset.

Alenia's maintenance and modification house Aeronavali will receive direct offset. Boeing has signed up Aeronavali for kit production and aircraft support, and to install the air refuelling and cargo equipment. It will also perform other 767 modifications. Alenia is a 767 programme supplier.

Airbus is applying pressure on Alenia and its parent Finmeccanica, using the latter's imminent announcement that it is to take an 8% stake in the A380 and its intention to take a share in the Airbus company as a lever.

Source: Flight International