Tanker loss ‘disappointment’

Published 12:18 am Saturday, February 26, 2011

South Alabama officials were left shocked and disappointed Thursday after the U.S. Air Force chose Boeing over Mobile-based EADS for a $35 billion refueling tanker contract.

The decision came after a second round in the competition for the contract. Mobile’s EADS and Northrup Grumman won the contract three years ago, but a protest by Boeing led government auditors to block the award.

Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings called the decision a “big disappointment.”

“We’re still waiting to learn why we didn’t win,” Jennings said. “At some point, we will know why.”

But officials said they will continue to look to the future with regard to potential aerospace industries.

“EADS has already made a substantial investment in Alabama with its engineering center in Mobile. We stand ready to support this company in whatever decision is made and will be available to help them. They are good corporate citizens who provide high-paying jobs to the people of this state,” said Alabama Development Office Director Seth Hammett. “More than 300 aerospace companies worldwide have made Alabama their home and, obviously we would have welcomed the tanker project and worked to ensure that it thrived. Our state is ideally situated for aerospace industry growth and we will continue to market the many advantages Alabama offers to new and expanding industries.”

U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, said he wanted to know why the contract went to Boeing. Analysts in the days leading up to the announcement predicted EADS would win.

“After having already won the competition three years ago and having brought to the table the best refueling aircraft for our military, it’s deeply disappointing that Mobile and the Gulf Coast were not chosen as the home of the new Air Force tanker,” he said. “Unfortunately, the best tanker for our military was not selected. I intend to demand a full accounting as to why.”

EADS has the right to a protest the decision.

“While there was great optimism that our team would ultimately prevail, we’ve also been conditioned to expect the unexpected,” Bonner said. “This competition has been challenged before and it’s not unlikely it will be challenged again. It will ultimately be up to EADS to determine whether they will protest this decision and I will fully support whatever decision they make.”

In the press conference, it was announced that both Boeing and EADS met all requirements for the contract, but that the price difference was greater than one percent, which was described as a “significant savings to the tax payers.” Throughout the process EADS had been considered to offer the “best bang for the buck.”

The aircraft Boeing will construct is the KC46A and will have the first 18 aircrafts of the 179 aircraft deal complete by 2017.

A successful EADS contract would have created thousands of jobs for the Gulf Coast.