Extension of bidding would give European firm shot at Air Force contract

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 1, 2010; A11

The Pentagon said Wednesday it would extend the deadline by 60 days for submitting bids to build the U.S. Air Force a fleet of new aerial refueling tankers, giving European Aeronautic Defence and Space a chance to enter the competition if it chooses.

EADS, the owner of Airbus, had partnered with Northrop Grumman to compete against Chicago-based Boeing on the roughly $40 billion contract. But Northrop dropped out of the competition in March, saying that the government's requirements favored Boeing's proposed 767 aircraft. EADS had asked the Pentagon for a 90-day extension so that it could submit a bid of its own.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said on Wednesday that the government would extend the deadline from May 10 to July 9 if EADS expressed an interest in submitting a bid. He said the Pentagon still plans to award the contract early this fall.

In a statement, EADS spokesman Guy Hicks said the company has "carefully assessed the many requirements necessary to participate."

"We have firmly indicated that a 90-day extension would be the minimum time necessary to prepare a responsible proposal for this $40 billion program," Hicks said. "We will consider the Department's decision to offer a 60 day extension."

The government has been trying for years to award a contract to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of planes used for refueling military aircraft mid-flight, but the effort to build 179 new tankers has been mired in controversy.

In 2004, Boeing lost the deal to build the tankers after an ethics scandal. In 2008, Northrop won the contract, but Boeing challenged the award and had it nullified. The Pentagon started another attempt to rebid the deal last September.

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