Air Force not tied to Airbus yet

A U.S. Air Force tanker

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Airbus and Boeing are used to doing battle.
And here's something else for them to fight about: Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office urged the Air Force to do a deal with Airbus to build the next generation of air-borne fuel tankers. This obviously doesn't sit well with the American company, Boeing.
But somebody has to build these things. Steve Henn explains.


Steve Henn: The GAO found the Air Force didn't follow its own rules in awarding a massive tanker deal to Northrop Grumman and Airbus.

That's an opening for Boeing, says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.

Loren Thompson: Boeing has not now won the tanker competition. What it has earned is the opportunity to come back and be evaluated fairly.

The GAO's report is non-binding, but Nick Schwellenbach at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight says Boeing has deep ties to the Democratic Congress and the upper hand on Capitol Hill.

Nick Schwellenbach: Congress is going to put a lot of pressure on the Defense Department.

What does that mean? Loren Thompson:

Thompson: It's nearly inevitable that the whole competition will have to be redone from scratch.

But Northrup and Airbus have their own congressional allies, and Thompson says those firms will fight to limit any new bidding process and make it fast.

Thompson: This is the latest delay in a process that has now stretched across a decade and saddled the Air Force with a fleet of 500 tankers that are approaching 50 years of age. Nobody has ever operated jets for this long. So we don't know how long they're going to last before they start falling out of the sky.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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