ORLANDO -- No one will say there will be a bid protest when the $35 billion KC-X tanker contract is awarded in the next few weeks. Neither Boeing nor EADS NA will rule out a protest either. So if -- as most observers believe -- a protest is filed is the Air Force ready? Does it have a plan? "Let me say right off we have assumed there might be a protest," Air Force Secretary Mike Donley told reporters today. "We have taken a lot of care and extra time in our source selection process." Donley, speaking at the Air Force Association winter conference, said "we certainly hope the offerors will not decide to protest but we recognize it is their right to do so."
Word here at the conference is that the contract is likely to be awarded a week from now, almost three years after the last protest. A few sources says it may be the week after. Regardless, the contract will be awarded very soon. And a protest is likely. Boeing believes it has an ace in the hole in the extent of its congressional support. And that matters because most observers pin the win on EADS. While EADS has a solid block of supporters in Alabama and several other southern states, it lacks the broad support Boeing can draw on from its large web of plants and suppliers scattered throughout the country. "You just have to look at the map," one source here said.
Meanwhile, Boeing lashed out yesterday afternoon at EADS, accusing the company's chairman of making a "reckless statement," one of "a series of false and misleading claims in its tanker campaign..." The statement, from Boeing tanker spokesman Bill Barskdale, came in reaction to Ralph Crosby's claim that the tanker Boeing built for Italy has not been "certified."
“The fact is… the Italian KC-767A tanker is fully qualified — including the aerial refueling systems (Wing Air Refueling Pods; Hose Drum Unit; Universal Air Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation; Boom) — by The Boeing Company and was subsequently certified by the FAA. In fact, the Italian Ministry of Defense also has issued a Military Type Certificate to Boeing for the KC-767A tanker aircraft. Their first KC-767A tanker has been delivered and is capable of operational air refueling," Barksdale said. “Boeing also takes exception to his saying that Boeing has been 'irresponsible' to warfighters. The fact is, Boeing has been responsibly serving U.S. warfighters since the 1920s, including over 60 years of aerial refueling experience. This stands in stark contrast to EADS’ relatively recent and limited experience in serving U.S. warfighters.”