Airbus tanker loses refueling boom in midair mishap

An Airbus A330 refueling tanker suffered a midair accident, losing part of its refueling boom into the ocean.

The mishap, which occurred Wednesday evening, comes as EADS, Airbus’ parent company, prepares its final bid for the U.S. Air Force tanker contest, worth roughly $35 billion.

Also involved in the accident was a Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter. Both the F-16 and Airbus tanker sustained damage when part of the refueling boom fell into the Atlantic Ocean, reports Flightglobal.

The tanker involved was to be delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force.

Both EADS and Boeing are still in the running for the U.S. Air Force competition. Boeing is offering the Air Force a tanker based on its Everett-built 767 tanker.

Also in tanker-related news, Boeing decided not to bid in India’s tanker contest, citing uncertainty over the U.S. contest. That leaves EADS and Russia in the contest to supply India with six tankers, though that total could increase.

The U.S. Air Force is expected to announce a winner in its contest in early 2011, though the precise timing looks to have slipped to March, according to this post by local analyst, Scott Hamilton.

The March date likely will coincide with the release of final World Trade Organization reports in dispute between Boeing and Airbus, notes Loren Thompson, analyst with the Lexington Institute.

Thompson believes Airbus will be awarded the contract to replace 179 of the U.S. Air Force’s aging KC-135 tankers, due in large part to the Pentagon’s refusal to consider the WTO reports. He writes:

But the core of the controversy arising in the aftermath of the tanker award will be that the winner has been rewarded for a multi-decade pattern of illegal trade practices, which enabled it to bid a lower price than the company that largely avoided such practices. The centerpiece of the European strategy in the tanker competition from Day One has always been to offer a concessionary price that Boeing could not match. Now it has found an ally in the U.S. Air Force to help destroy more American jobs.

Boeing previously paid Thompson to do a study for the company.

Lawmakers from Washington state have proposed legislation in Congress to force the Pentagon to take the WTO’s rulings, which largely favor Boeing, into account in the tanker contest. The Air Force, however, has said it can’t do so until the WTO cases are finalized. Analysts believe either Boeing or Airbus, or both, will appeal the WTO decisions.

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