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Thu, Jan 29, 2009

EADS Bows Out Of Air Force One Replacement RFI

Will Focus Its Efforts On Securing KC-X Contract

It's an interesting news day when a company both confirms it was part of a particular program, then subsequently announces it will withdraw from that effort. EADS North America announced Wednesday it will not participate in a US Air Force competition to select a new aircraft for use as the next-generation US presidential transport.

As ANN reported, news surfaced last week the US Air Force quietly asked for bids in 2007 to provide the next Air Force One from not only Boeing -- which has provided all presidential transport planes, dating back to the 1950s -- but also from European planemaker Airbus.

The news was met with some grumbling from traditionalists, who argue the US president should only travel on an American plane.

Countering those arguments was the fact the 747 is no longer the biggest commercial aircraft -- that title belongs to the current Airbus A380-800, and even larger variants are planned. Foreign-sourced aircraft have also made inroads into US defense spending, most notably with the AgustaWestland-sourced VH-71 presidential helicopter replacement.

On Wednesday, EADS North America confirmed the Air Force did submit requests for information for a number of Airbus planes. "In 2007 at the USAF’s request, EADS North America provided technical information and answered questions regarding several Airbus widebody commercial aircraft as the service conducted its Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to recapitalize the current fleet of presidential aircraft," the company said.

"EADS North America’s strategy for growth in the US is based on bringing value to the US warfighter; making industrial investments in the US and insourcing high technology defense and aerospace jobs. After careful review, we've determined that participation in the AF-1 program will not help us meet these business objectives."

Instead, EADS will focus its efforts on securing the KC-X air tanker competition... which it in fact won last year, though that decision was subsequently thrown out.

"Though the company will not respond to this RFI, we remain focused on once again winning the KC-X competition with Northrop Grumman, delivering the UH-72A LUH to the US Army and meeting the needs of our US defense and homeland security customers," EADS said. "We reiterate our strong commitment to the US Department of Defense and to supporting the warfighter with our products and services."

The EADS announcement presumably clears the way for Boeing to win the next AF-1 bid. It's not clear yet which aircraft Boeing will offer to replace the two 19-year-old 747-200Bs that currently serve at the pleasure of the president. The upcoming 747-8 Intercontinental would be a natural choice... though the Air Force's desire for a proven platform could mean the Air Force will opt for the older (and, for the moment, out of production) 747-400, or even the smaller 777 twinjet.

FMI: www.boeing.com

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