New Air Force tanker competition welcomed by Mobile city leaders


MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The Air Force is calling for a new refueling tanker as a bridge between the troubled KC-46 tanker built by Boeing, and the Eisenhower era KC-135 tanker.

Some Mobile leaders remember the time that thrust Mobile into the Air Force tanker competition more than a decade ago. At stake, a $40b contract for a new refueling tanker that Airbus/EADS promised to build in Mobile.

Mobile City Councilwoman Gina Gregory was on the council at that time. “I remember when we won the contract, and I remember when we lost the contract,” said Gregory.

At the time, it was a bitter pill for state and local leaders to swallow. Sam Jones was the Mayor of the city.

“It’s devastating to win a 40 billion dollar contract one year and the next year be put in a position where you can’t compete,” said Jones at the time.

There were charges of political shenanigans that left Boeing the winner of the tanker contract. The company now builds the KC-46 Pegasus aircraft–an aircraft the Air Force admits is a lemon. Particularly troubling is the Remote Viewing System (RVS) that allows the boom operator to see the aircraft being refueled. In previous tankers, the boom operator was stationed in the rear of the tanker to see the refueling boom. In the KC-46, the operator is in the cockpit with the Remote Viewing System that the Air Force says is troubled by faulty software.

Now, of course, Airbus is successfully building commercial airliners at Brookley Aeroplex instead of tankers. And now, the temperature in Congress has changed that has some lawmakers calling for rebidding the tanker contract. And last week, the Air Force seemed to run in that direction, issuing a ‘sources-sought alert’ asking to hear from companies interested–which may have had some heads at Boeing spinning.

Airbus, which already has a tanker based on its A330 platform, said it would respond to the alert. While it doesn’t guarantee Mobile would be in the mix if Airbus wins the competition this time–with two assembly lines operating in Mobile, and the only assembly lines Airbus operates in the U.S.–Brookley could once again be a good bet.

Local leaders who remember the last time are thrilled to hear about it.

“Boeing is not only having trouble with tankers, Boeing is having trouble with airplanes—and we haven’t heard anything like that with Airbus,” said Councilman Fred Richardson.

Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson added, “Like I said, what goes around seems to eventually come back around and we’re thrilled.”

The Air Force is looking for 140 to 160 new tankers at a rate of 12 to 15 per year.

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