Boeing has best tanker

After canceled deals in 2003 and 2008, the third time had better be the charm on the bidding for an air-refueling tanker, the largest military hardware contract ever. The nation needs the tanker jobs as much as the Air Force needs the tankers.

But on the eve of Friday’s deadline for bids to build the Air Force’s next tanker fleet, the most likely winner would seem to be the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the parent company of Airbus. Analysts think Boeing will have a hard time beating EADS on price, because Airbus has the benefit of big public subsidies, government-paid health care and lower investor expectations.

If EADS prevails, that will be a victory for illegal European government subsidies and a defeat for the American taxpayer and work force, including perhaps 7,500 highly skilled aviation workers in Wichita who would be called upon to help build a Boeing tanker.

EADS backers seemingly got a boost last week when the World Trade Organization found Boeing guilty of receiving illegal subsidies of at least $5 billion. But that amount pales compared with the WTO’s earlier tally of Airbus’ illegal subsidies over 40 years — $24.5 billion, including $5 billion for the A330, which is the airframe for the company’s tanker.

Either way the contract goes, expect further delays. The loser likely will challenge the outcome, as will members of Congress from the affected states. If it wins, EADS has promised to bring 48,000 jobs to Alabama and other states, fostering the same kind of congressional activism on Airbus’ behalf as that long shown for Boeing by lawmakers from Washington state, Kansas and elsewhere.

As they’ve been all along, members of the Kansas delegation are openly working for a Boeing win, which could mean 50,000 new American jobs. Sen. Jerry Moran, RKan., already has co-sponsored a bill to require the Pentagon to consider any unfair advantages gained through subsidies before it awards the contract.

More than a decade after the bidding drama began, it’s still unthinkable that the contract to build a U.S. Air Force tanker would go to a business based in France. If ever there were a time for the Pentagon to favor an American company with a $35 billion contract to build 179 military airplanes, it is now, when the U.S. unemployment rate is 9 percent and aerospace is fighting its way back from the Great Recession. But there are other reasons to go with Boeing, too.

As Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, wrote Wednesday in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “When you examine the benefits to the warfighter, the cost to the taxpayer and the impact on the American worker, the choice is clear: The Boeing NewGenTanker is the best option.”