Opinion Columns & Blogs

Public should rally for a Boeing-built tanker

A Boeing-built tanker needs our support. Boeing and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. had to submit final proposals to the Air Force by today. The $35 billion contract is expected to be awarded by March.

In today's economic climate, it is time for the public to rally for a Boeing-built tanker.

Boeing has proven performance. In the tanker business for more than 60 years, Boeing has built more than 2,000 operational tankers and 1,800 operational booms. EADS has no such track record.

The Government Accountability Office overruled the award to Northrop Grumman and EADS in 2008, vindicating Boeing by stating the Air Force "did not assess the relative merits of the proposals in accordance with the evaluation criteria identified in the solicitation." Boeing's right-sized tanker is more versatile, being able to fully use 811 tanker airfields, nearly twice as many as EADS' tanker.

Over time, Boeing's tanker will cost much less. Life-cycle costs were miscalculated in 2008. Using accurate calculations, Boeing beat the competition.

"Depending on aircraft usage rates and fuel prices, total life-cycle cost savings for a fleet of 179 Boeing 767 aircraft compared to a fleet of 179 EADS Airbus A330 aircraft are 20 to 25 percent less and range from $11 billion to $36 billion," according to AeroStrategy, a company analyzing aircraft maintenance costs. An EADS tanker could cost twice the amount of a Boeing tanker over the airplane's life.

The concern about putting American national security interests in the hands of a foreign government is still valid. Relying on other countries to ensure that tanker production needs are unconditionally met is dangerous policy.

Jobs and illegal EADS subsidies should also play a large factor in the final decision. Boeing reports an award would result in 50,000 U.S. jobs, affecting 800 suppliers in 40 states. In Kansas, 7,500 jobs with a $388 million annual impact could be created. Boeing employees and local suppliers would play key roles in modifying 767 planes into NewGen military tankers. A Boeing tanker means jobs at home.

The economic downturn dramatically affected the aerospace industry. My company, Machining Specialists — once a partner and supplier of parts for Boeing's 767 tanker productions for Japan and Italy — has not weathered the consequences. Though a delayed tanker decision is not directly responsible for our planned closing, our company and 100-plus employees could have benefited from its production. The economic livelihood of hundreds of businesses nationwide would benefit from this award.

Airbus launched its programs backed by "massive, illegal infusions" throughout its history, said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. The World Trade Organization found EADS received more than $15 billion in "launch aid" compared with Boeing's $2.6 billion in research and development. The EADS subsidy made the A330 possible, while Boeing took no subsidies on the 767. Thompson said Airbus was able to use subsidies "to submit a lowball bid," as it often does with commercial transport operations.

Both companies are expected to meet the 372 mandatory performance points, which would make pricing a factor.

But the final administrative decision will be political. We can affect the outcome.

History, performance, security, lifetime costs, fair trade and jobs are at the heart of the largest military expenditure in our history. The stakes make a Boeing-built tanker the correct political choice. No other solution makes more sense.