EADS charts course to beat Boeing for tankers

Thursday - 4/22/2010, 10:55am EDT

Sean O'Keefe, CEO, EADS North America

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Now in its third attempt to replace aging KC-135 tankers, the Air Force extended an RFP in the hopes someone would give Boeing a run for the money after Northrop Grumman announced it was not interested in competing.

Airbus parent company EADS to the rescue.

Sean O'Keefe, CEO of EADS North America, told Federal News Radio it was easy for the company to decide to bid for the $35-billion dollar Air Force refueling tanker contract.

We've been teamed with Northrop Grumman for the last five years and preparing for the opportunity to offer the A330 commercial aircraft, of which this tanker will be a derivative thereof, as a opportunity to the US Air Force to convert it to a refuelling tanker. Since that time, we have now been on contract as EADS with the Australians, the UK, the Saudi Arabia and Arab Emirate air forces for exactly the same capability. So what we're offering is a proven, tested capability in an aircraft that's a derivative of a commercial airplane, so the development mystery is minimal.

All in all, said O'Keefe, "this is a great opportunity to serve the warfighter and to provide an opportunity to see a benefit to the taxpayer for a competition that is long overdue."

As for any Buy America concerns, O'Keefe said EADS has that covered.

We're a US contractor. EADS North America is chartered in the state of New York. We're the prime contractor on helicopter programs for the Defense Department, (with) a wide range of other capabilities that we provide right here in the United States. So this is a very unique circumstance where the Defense Department has advised that we have all the qualifications necessary to be a prime contractor. We're going to build the aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. We're going to create or sustain better than 48,000 American jobs in putting this together. So they've looked at that and said "this is a credible, US, American tanker choice."

O'Keefe sums up: "So we're an American company with US folks involved and have all the qualifications to act as a prime."

For now, O'Keefe said EADS is concentrating on meeting the July 9th deadline for the RFP. "Everything we're doing right now is targeted around that date in making sure that we can put forward our best effort: a professional, credible proposal that will be competitive and has a very strong shot of winning. That's our whole objective and the approach that we're taking to it."

After that, said O'Keefe, they'll be looking at changes to operations and being ready to roll from day one. "We're confident in our abilities to put forward a very strong proposal and we're preparing as if we're going to win," said the previous head of NASA, Secretary of the Navy and Comptroller of the Pentagon.