The bidding contest between Airbus and Boeing for a US Air Force aerial refueling tanker contract heated up on Friday, with Airbus parent EADS mulling a new proposal and Russian state firm UAC gearing up for one next week.
EADS opened the door to a bid against US arch-rival Boeing for the US$35 billion contract after an indication from the Pentagon that the May deadline could be extended.
Renewed EADS interest in the competition, and the surprise emergence of a Russian competitor, marked new twists in the long-running saga to replace the fleet.
Just last week EADS was forced to withdraw from the bidding after its lead partner, US defense contractor Northrop Grumman refused to compete, alleging the requirements were skewed in favor of Boeing.
Northrop’s exit from the competition left the field open for Chicago-based Boeing, which built the tanker fleet in the 1950s and has promised a formal bid by May 10.
Military commanders view the planned KC-X aircraft as crucial to sustaining US air power and are anxious to replace the older Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers.
The turning point for EADS appeared late on Thursday, when the Defense Department acknowledged it would consider “a reasonable extension” to the bidding deadline after learning from EADS that it may reenter the fray.
“Yesterday the US Department of Defense indicated it would welcome a proposal from EADS North America as prime contractor for the KC-X tanker competition,” EADS said in a statement on Friday.
“This is a significant development. EADS is assessing this new situation to determine if the company can feasibly submit a responsive proposal to the department’s request for a proposal,” the company said.