The US Department of Defense has finally approved a $16 billion deal with Boeing to lease 100 KC-767 tankers, starting from 2006, after shaving about $1 billion off its cost through fine-tuning the configuration and suggesting that the US Air Force will acquire additional aircraft under a new recapitalisation plan being drawn up.

Approval of the lease by the US undersecretary for defence Pete Aldridge now clears the way for a report to be forwarded to the US Congress for review and its blessing.

The deal entails the lease over six years of 100 tankers at $138 million for each aircraft, which includes a $7 million financing charge. The USAF will have the option of buying the aircraft at the end of the lease for an additional $40 million an aircraft or $4 billion for the fleet.

This figure is down from the $21 billion deal offered by Boeing last month, but this was based on certain assumptions "we thought we could get by with", according to Aldridge. The Pentagon reduced the number of tanks on the KC-767, thereby dropping the price. By indicating the deal could go beyond 100 aircraft, it "gave Boeing a little more confidence that they didn't have to worry about production stopping", Aldridge adds.

Leasing is not without its vocal critics within Congress, including Arizona's Republican senator John McCain, who described the deal "as the envy of corporate lobbyists".

The Pentagon defends the deal, claiming it will deliver 67 tankers within six years, compared with just one aircraft if it chose to buy. "To purchase at the same rate we would have to put about $8 billion more into the five-year defence plan than is there," says Aldridge.

It is intended that the KC-767s will replace older Boeing KC-135Es, but with a total force including re-engined KC-135Rs numbering 544 tankers, with an average age of 43 years, the air force is going to need "several hundred tankers", says Aldridge.

The USAF has been asked to present a long-range plan by November for "recapitalisation" of the entire fleet.


Source: Flight International