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Tanker Troubles?

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Is Boeings aging 767 aerial tanker snake bit?

Five years ago, Boeing got caught pushing the 767 in a controversial $23 billion sweetheart lease deal with the Air Force that landed its execs in jail. Since then, Boeing has been on the loosing end in sales to four U.S. allies which bought aerial tankers. Great Britain, United Arab Emirates, Australia and soon to be announced Saudi Arabia all went with the newer KC-30 built by Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co.

Boeing inked deals with Japan and Italy but has yet to deliver. Italy has been waiting for more than two years and counting. And Japan has imposed fees and angrily waits as Boeing struggles to get the tanker fully certified by the FAA.

Thats proving harder than Boeing publicly admits. Problems include flight control software integration and debugging (very serious), and an environmental control system (minor). Others concern communications, not being able to fly long distances on only one engine and night refueling glitches. All keep the aircraft grounded.

And a new wrinkle popped up at Boeings recent investor conference. After hearing about yet more Japan and Italian tanker set backs problems with the refueling boom camera, and hang ups with wing pod gas hoses J.P. Morgan warned these performance issues and delays may count against Boeing in the $40 billion competition against EADS and U.S. partner Northrop Grumman to replace the U.S. Air Forces fleet of existing tankers. Its the biggest procurement program in years.

Since past performance is a top criterion of the selection process, the Air Force no doubt is wringing its hands. And Boeing continues to stub its toe and raise eyebrows inside the Pentagon. At the end of May, Boeing got caught embellishing some tanker facts. It said the 767 could take off fully loaded in 7,000 feet of runway. In reality, according to Boeings own clarification, it needs 8,000 feet to get airborne.

The art of fact-shading doesnt stop there. Boeing says its tanker program will create 44,000 new jobs. The truth? Regardless of who wins, the program will create 25,000 new jobs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The straight facts are not hard to come by. The KC-30 is newer and more technologically sophisticated than the Boeing 767. The KC-30 carries 20 percent more gas (or 45,000 more pounds), more passengers, including aero-medical evacuation patients, nearly double the cargo pallets, is more fuel efficient, and can land fully loaded at 838 runways worldwidenearly 300 more than the Boeing 767.

Military planers like the fact that the KC-30 multi-platform tanker could lighten the load of the Air Forces C-17 cargo hauler, letting it move the heavy equipment it was designated for. Others think a straight tanker, like Boeings 767, despite its limitations, is best for the service.

But what about Boeings current snafus on the Japan and Italian tankers? Is this not a red flag of problems and risk the Air Force should worry about? Boeing says these contracts serve as risk mitigation programs for the big U.S. Air Force deal. In other words, our allies in Tokyo and Rome are guinea pigs.

Had the Pentagon gone with the original lease deal and paid Boeing $250 million per plane or more than twice todays purchase price the Air Force would be the guinea pig. The same problems that plague the 767 in Japan and Italy would have left the Air Force without an operational tanker today.

That head-spinning fact is not lost on the pilots who require a tanker that can get airborne anytime to refuel military aircraft supporting troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and hot spots around the world.

(Gouge: BV)-- Ward Show Full Article

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