Choose Boeing over Airbus for tanker

When America needs to project power, especially during dangerous times, aerial tankers are essential. The Air Force fleet includes more than 500 of these critical planes, with an average age of 45 years — old enough to qualify a car for “antique” plates in most states. The Air Force has stated that replacing this aging fleet is its No. 1 acquisition priority and all of us should take notice.

U.S.-based Boeing and France-based Airbus, in partnership with Northrop Grumman, have submitted bids to replace the tanker fleet, and the winner will be known in a few months. There are three clear and overriding considerations: experience, best-value fulfillment of mission requirements, and economics. Let’s look at the facts.

Boeing has been building tankers for almost 75 years, including the current fleet of KC-135 tankers. The Boeing KC-767 is already built, flying and offloading fuel. It is right-sized for the mission. Airbus has never built tanker planes, and neither has Northrop Grumman. Their design will be based on Airbus’s European-manufactured A330 commercial jetliner, but has yet to fly as a tanker. That’s a risky proposition.

Effectiveness in satisfying mission requirements is a key differentiating factor for Boeing. The KC-767’s right-size design means more planes can be situated at a single front line base at any given time. That enables the Boeing entry to better service squadrons of combat airplanes all needing fuel at the same time. With this size advantage, the KC-767 will access 1,000 more bases than Airbus’s bigger plane and fit in our current hangars — saving valuable military construction dollars.

The Boeing KC-767 is much more fuel-efficient. If Boeing’s plane is selected, the taxpayer will see $10 billion in fuel savings. As staunch advocates for ecologically friendly and taxpayer-friendly government policies, our preference for the KC-767 is a no-brainer.

And the economic impact of a Boeing win is even clearer. The $40 billion, 15-year contract to build the new tanker fleet would support 44,000 American jobs at Boeing and at 300 supplier companies — twice the number of American jobs than if Airbus were selected. Nearly every state in the union would be touched by Boeing’s KC-767 tanker program, something Airbus cannot say.

Some Airbus supporters have advocated a “split buy,” with the Air Force purchasing both companies’ planes. This would secure Airbus an entrance into the U.S. defense market — but it is a surefire mistake for our government’s finances. The Air Force has made it clear that it would be too costly to purchase two types of aircraft, and furthermore the Air Force fleet already has (and will continue to have) a mix of aircraft in it. We simply cannot play politics with taxpayers’ money to ensure a foreign competitor becomes a major player in our defense market, especially when that competitor is the object of a U.S. complaint to the World Trade Organization for unfair government subsidies.

We believe in the power of American ingenuity, competitiveness and progress. We believe the Air Force must select the aircraft offering that best leverages those advantages. If the decision is based on experience, mission requirements and economics, there is only one choice — Boeing’s KC-767.

Tiahrt and Dicks serve on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. Boeing’s largest plant is in Everett, Wash.,    near Dicks’s district.