Graham Warwick / Washington DC

The US Air Force has resumed negotiations with Boeing on a 767 tanker lease after rejecting an EADS offer of Airbus A330-based tankers as it was considered technically more risky and costly. The USAF plans to present a business case for leasing tankers to Congress in the third quarter.

Although Congress had directed the US Air Force to lease tankers from Boeing, the service issued a request for information (RFI) to "determine if competition was practical". EADS offered the KC-330, based on the A330-200. The USAF says assessment of the RFI results "shows that the EADS offering presents a higher-risk technical approach and a less preferred financial arrangement".

The USAF says EADS' lack of relevant tanker experience and its need to develop an air-refuelling boom and operator station makes theKC-330 significantly higher risk than Boeing's 767-200ER-based tanker. The US manufacturer is already developing the boom- and drogue-equipped KC-767 for launch customers Italy and Japan. The USAF also says the KC-330's larger size "does not bring with it a commensurate increase in available air-refuelling offload". Whereas theKC-767 has a ground footprint 29% larger than the Boeing KC-135E it would replace, the KC-330's is 81% larger, the service says.

EADS also lost out on cost, with the USAF concluding that a comparison of net present values for the A330-200 and 767-200ER "establishes Boeing as the preferred financial option". Aircraft residual values influence lease rates, although the USAF is likely to opt for a lease-to-buy arrangement to replace its older KC-135s. The service also determined that leasing the KC-330 would demand a greater infrastructure investment, which "dramatically limits the aircraft's ability to operate effectively".

Although disappointed, EADS has received a boost from the USAF accepting it as a competitor for the first time. It says it has been encouraged by the USAF to participate in future competitions, including tanker programmes, and that it is better placed for future tenders having gained experience of the US procurement system.


Source: Flight International