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Mon, Feb 21, 2005

Sears Sentenced, Will Boeing Bounce?

Aerospace Firm Rolls Out Its New Aerial Tanker This Week

Boeing this week rolls out its KC-767 at the Wichita plant -- the first new aerial refueling tanker design the company has built in some 50 years. This model goes to the Italian Air Force. But in the midst of an ongoing scandal investigation by the Pentagon, it's still up in the air whether the Boeing tanker will fly for the US Air Force.

The Italian job is scheduled for flight-testing between now and the time it's actually delivered to Rome -- next year. Before it actually goes into service, the KC-767 will be modified in Italy. It's one of four such aircraft slated for delivery to that country.

But Boeing will celebrate the delivery in a big way, hoping to be noticed in Washington, where the KC-767 is competing against a version of the Airbus A330 for a $23.5 billion Pentagon contract. It was a contract that Boeing had won, but then lost because the USAF employee in charge of tanker negotiations cheated on the Chicago company's behalf. Darleen Druyun later accepted a high-paying job with Boeing. But that didn't last long. She and Boeing CFO Michael Sears were fired, after the Pentagon launched an investigation into the scandal. Boeing CEO Phil Condit abruptly resigned in the wake of the ordeal. Druyun is already serving a prison sentence for her part in the scandal. Friday, Sears was handed a four-month prison term for his part.

The Air Force is now investigating the propriety of several other Boeing contracts, trying to determine whether they were also tainted by Druyun's actions.

The Wichita Eagle reports Boeing has already written off the loss of the tanker contract. The company has just 25 outstanding orders for 767s and says it will shut down its production line if the tanker contract doesn't come through. Once the line is shut down, 750 Wichita workers will either be transferred to other production lines or get pink slips. And if that happens, analysts say there's very little chance that the line will be restarted.

FMI: www.boeing.com

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