The USA has dismissed European concerns that the planned leasing of 100 Boeing 767 in-flight refuelling tankers for the US Air Force amounts to government subsidy for the airframer, and has countered by questioning whether plans to develop the A400M military transport constitute indirect support for Airbus.

The issue was raised on 17 January at a routine twice-yearly meeting under the 1992 EC- (European Commission) US bilateral deal on trade in large civil aircraft. Insiders described the meeting as positive, with the EC providing detailed information requested by the USA on European state aid for the Airbus A380.

EC negotiators questioned whether the USAF action is in breach of the agreement, which prohibits discrimination against suppliers in large civil aircraft deals. The USA is understood to have argued that the aircraft are military, and so are not covered by the accord's provisions.

The EC also queried whether the $20 million per aircraft per year lease-cost authorised by the US Congress, which compares with commercial leases of $7- $8 million for the basic 767-200ER, constitutes indirect government aid to Boeing. The USA argued that the claim was premature as no price has yet been set or contract let, sources say.

US negotiators, on the other hand, argued that the A400M airlifter deal looks more like an economic development than a military aircraft programme, and could therefore be construed as indirect support for Airbus.

Boeing says it will take up to six months to agree terms for the tanker lease. Meanwhile, USAF secretary James Roche says that the air force would welcome an Airbus bid, even though Congressional authorisation is for a sole-source contract with the US manufacturer.

Source: Flight International