Boeing and EADS are preparing to enter a fresh in-flight refuelling competition in the Middle East, as both companies work to overcome development problems with their candidate aircraft.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) air force had been tipped to release a formal requirement for a small fleet of advanced tankers at the Dubai show last week, but held back at the last minute.

“We have options under study now, but we still have not made our choice of what type of aerial refueller [is required],” says the service’s assistant commander, Brig Gen Ali Khadem Al Mansouri.

However, he says the air force intends to field a tanker capability within the next three to five years to support operations of its Dassault Mirage 2000-9s and Lockheed Martin F-16E/Fs.

Already selected to meet tanker requirements in Australia, Canada, Germany and the UK, EADS Casa is also chasing business opportunities in markets including France, NATO, the UAE and the USA.

The successful demonstration of a company-developed aerial refuelling boom system (ARBS) is vital if the company is to secure orders from customers such as the UAE and US Air Force, but it is now several months behind schedule in launching flight tests with the boom.

EADS confirms that it has yet to fly a boom-equipped Airbus A310 trials aircraft, despite having set a mid-2005 target. However, its second prototype ARBS is scheduled for installation on the aircraft this week, and a debut flight is expected before year-end, it says. The delay is understood to have been attributed to problems with subsuppliers.

Australia has slowed progress payments to EADS for its five-aircraft order because of problems with the boom.

Boeing, meanwhile, says the first of Italy’s four KC-767 tankers has undergone 30 flights totalling 112h and is scheduled for delivery late next year. The company will soon flight test a modified pylon for the aircraft’s hose and drogue refuelling pods, after experiencing buffeting during earlier flight tests, and will begin tests delivering fuel in mid-2006, says Jeff Keller, programme director, international campaigns for Boeing airlift and tanker programmes.

Japan’s first of four KC-767s is now in modification and will be delivered in December 2006, Keller adds.

Source: Flight International