Boeing seeks S. Korea tanker contract

EVERETT — South Korea needs a new aerial-refueling tanker, and Boeing has one for sale, the 767-based KC-46.

The airplane maker has formally submitted a bid to provide four tankers to South Korea, a contract worth about $1.38 billion.

Airbus Group and an Israeli company also submitted bids, according to Reuters.

All the competitors are offering planes capable of performing several missions — refueling, transport, medical evacuation and passenger transport.

Airbus builds the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), and Israeli Aerospace Industries has a tanker based on the 767-200ER.

Unlike the competition, the KC-46 has “the ability to operate seamlessly with the U.S. Air Force during combat and humanitarian relief operations,” Eric John, president of Boeing Korea, said in a statement from the company.

South Korea is shopping for four tankers, but a few more follow-on orders are expected, said an industry source familiar with contract. He spoke anonymously because he does not have authority to speak publicly about the matter.

Airbus and Boeing have been battling across the globe to provide tankers.

At least five countries have ordered the A330 MRTT — Australia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom — while several other countries have said they intend to order the airplane, including France, India, Qatar and Spain.

Boeing has fewer customers so far for its Everett-built KC-46, but thse orders far exceed those of Airbus. The U.S. Air Force plans to purchase 179 KC-46As as it overhauls an aging tanker fleet, a deal worth an estimated $52 billion. More orders could follow in the next decade.

The tanker program’s four test planes are all in production, with first flight scheduled for later this year.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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