Tanker deal is big win for Washington aerospace, 10 years in the making

Feb 25, 2011

Aerospace workers in the Puget Sound region are celebrating.  So is the state's congressional delegation, which has fought for 10 years to win a lucrative contract to build a refueling tanker for the U.S. Air Force.

The Pentagon's Deputy Secretary of Defense, William Lynn, says Boeing was "a clear winner" in the competition to build a multi-billion-dollar refueling tanker.  This means unless rival bidder EADS contests the decision, a newly revamped 767 line at Boeing's Everett factory will likely be busy for decades. 

At a packed press conference in downtown Seattle, there were hugs all around. Senator Maria Cantwell said Boeing's tanker is the best one for the military.  She says its capabilities are what the air force needs.

"Not only did Boeing win on the best war-fighter and fuel burn and mil-con, it was a decisive decision that they were the best plane and the best product," Cantwell said.  "But it means that for a long time in coming, that the northwest will continue its excellence in Aviation manufacturing." 

It seems to have come down to a question of price.  Boeing's bid was apparently cheaper by more than the 1 percent margin required to end the process without taking other factors into account. Senator Patty Murray says it has been a hard fought battle. And Boeing stepped up.

"When you're an underdog, you fight hard.  That really gave us the steel and the grit to keep on fighting and to make sure we did absolutely everything we could.  You know , you fight hard when you're behind.  And it wasn't just the delegation.  It was Boeing."

Congressman Jay Inslee cheered Boeing on for its ability to get the contract even though the Air Force refused to take subsidies into account that allowed EADS to propose a bigger tanker, on an Airbus airframe, for almost the same price.

"Nonetheless, Boeing won.  Now I guess this shows that Boeing workers are good enough to win a hundred yard race when you give the other guys a 14-yard head start."

The Pentagon said both Boeing and EADS satisfied all 372 mandatory performance requirements in their offers. EADS now has three days to ask for a debriefing as to why exactly it lost. But the Pentagon is hopeful there won't be any contesting of this result.