Boeing Wins Aerial Tanker Saga
February 24, 2011 — Boeing was awarded a $35 billion contract from the U.S. Air Force to produce 179 next-generation aerial tankers. The Pentagon announced Thursday that it would pay Boeing more than $3.5 billion to deliver the first 18 of the new aircraft by 2017. Nearly a decade ago the USAF put the contract up for bid, and since then Boeing and Airbus owner EADS were locked in a titanic struggle over the lucrative contract. Several twists and turns ensued involving charges of impropriety, jail terms, and intense political pressure by lawmakers from several states where the planes would be built.
The first plan was to lease and eventually buy 100 modified B767 tankers from Boeing but that plan was scrapped amid charges of impropriety between a Boeing and Pentagon officials in 2002, landing seve3ral Boeing executives in jail.
When bidding was reopened EADS partnered with Northrop Grumman to build tankers in Mobile, Alabama, based on its civilian A330 airliner. Boeing’s bid involved a designed based on it B767 airliner. The Pentagon awarded a 179-plane deal to EADS in 2008, but Boeing protested and government auditors agreed with enough parts of the protest to cause the deal to be scrapped.
Northrop dropped out of the second round of bidding leaving EADS to compete with Boeing alone.