Why Airbus Tanker Beat Boeing

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The Air Force says Northrop-Grumman’s proposal for a new aerial refueling aircraft based on the Airbus A330 was simply better than Boeing’s 767-based plan. Documents quoted by the Seattle Post Intelligencer say the Air Force will need 22 fewer Airbuses because it’s more efficient at refueling and has a faster turnaround time than the 767. The Boeing had the edge in communications, some aerial refueling capabilities and combat survivability. It all added up to a close competition that the Air Force suggests may have been tipped by the business skills of the two bidders.

While Northrop’s past performance on Air Force contracts was judged as “satisfactory,” the Air Force assessment team said it had “little confidence” in Boeing’s ability to get the job done on time and on budget. Boeing spokesman Bill Barksdale told the PI that Boeing’s previous problems on defense contracts were “overemphasized” in the tanker bid and didn’t take into account the “lessons learned” on those projects.