Airbus Military and its partner AirTanker are hopeful that long-running dialogue with the French air force about the replacement of its tanker fleet is close to reaching the point where the structure of any acquisition deal will be finalised.
France has 14 ageing Boeing KC-135 tankers and EADS's Airbus A330-based multirole tanker transport is seen as a likely lead candidate to replace them from 2015.
The EADS UK-led AirTanker consortium is supplying 14 A330 tankers to the UK Royal Air Force for its Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft requirement under a £13 billion ($18.3 billion) private finance initiative deal. Chief executive Phillip Blundell says AirTanker has held "quite a lot of dialogue with the French to help them to understand what we've done on the RAF programme and to see how it would, or would not, suit them".
Speaking at an event at Airbus's Broughton, UK plant to mark the shipment of the first RAF A330 tanker's wings to Bremen for equipping, Blundell said: "I get the sense that the French are getting ready to make a decision, at least on the procurement methodology if not necessarily the timescale."
Airbus Military's head of defence capability marketing Pete Scoffham says that while the "PFI route" is available should the French want it, "we'd prefer them not to, as it is extremely complex".
EADS Casa tanker project director Antonio Caramazana says negotiations have been ongoing with France for the "last four or five years", and that its requirements depend on "their needs and their budgets. Currently they've got 14 aircraft and they would like to replace one-for-one."
Blundell adds that the requirement is to provide "somewhere between six and 14 aircraft".