Air Force To Fly Airbus
Anyone who thought the drawn-out battle to choose the new generation Air Force tanker aircraft ended with the Pentagonís decision Friday to go with the Northrop-Grumman/EADS consortium likely has another think coming. "This won't be pretty," Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., told The Seattle Times Saturday. "There will be a firestorm of criticism on Capitol Hill,Ē Dicks, whose Seattle-area district depends heavily on Boeing for its economic well-being, warned. Although the loss of the $40 billion deal is not expected to result in any job losses at Boeing, the contract would have created up to 8,000 additional jobs and kept the 767 assembly line going well beyond 2012 when the last commercial 767 is finished. Itís an election year in which the economy is in trouble and protectionist sentiments have been expressed by both Democratic presidential nomination contenders. Not only that, the leading Republican contender is remembered as the politician that killed the original contract awarded to Boeing in 2003, so it would seem the tanker issue will have pretty long legs.
"We should have an American tanker built by an American company with American workers," said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., whose district includes Boeingís Wichita plant. Leading Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have both been trumpeting protectionist policies of late but itís Republican front-runner John McCain who might face the most scrutiny. It was pressure from McCain that scotched a 2003 award to Boeing for a total of 100 767-based tankers. McCain alleged favoritism in the bidding process and the Pentagon rescinded the contract in 2004. Now there are allegations the most recent bidding process was changed to favor the Airbus/Northrop Grumman bid. In the end, it may well be the U.S.-first sentiment that dominates the chorus of discontent. "Obviously, Congress is going to react to the American public," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said. "You can put an American sticker on a plane and call it American, but that doesn't make it American-made." Which aircraft will do the best job for the best price does not seem to figure into the current debate.