Tank-er? I Hardly…Well, Yes, I Guess I Do Know ‘Er Since It’s Based on the Locally Built 767 Platform

It’s been awfully quiet on this blog on the aerospace front recently. It’s almost as if our own Bill McSherry hasn’t been flying back and forth across the country, working with eight other states to help Governor Gregoire launch the U.S. Tanker 2010 coalition (he has). You know, the bi-partisan effort led by governors from across the country who support awarding the U.S. Air Force Refueling Tanker Contract to The Boeing Company? Well, if you don’t, you should. Here’s everything you need to know:

1) At long last, it seems like the U.S. Air Force will finally be able to contract for the replacement of their now 60 year old aerial refueling tankers, those big planes that little planes plug into in midair to refuel without having to land. (Which is crazy when you think about it. I mean, I don’t even feel safe having 60 year old people driving me around, much less relying on 60 year old planes to ensure our country’s security.) The RFP is out, and they are expected to make a decision by Labor Day.

2) If Boeing gets the contract (they’re going to either be one of two bidders or the only bidder), it would base the tanker on the 767 commercial airplane model, which happens to be built in Everett. And by happens to be built in Everett, I mean that our region would be guaranteed thousands of jobs up at Paine Field for many years to come. Which is pretty good news, considering that it might balance some of the losses from 787 production shifting to Carolina.

3) A lot of other states would benefit too, like Kansas, which would do the finishing on the work that Everett does. Which is why those states want to join a national coalition to ensure that Boeing gets the contract. Oh, and FYI, the other bidder is EADS/Airbus, which would do most of the work oversees using European workers. So, that doesn’t help with the whole “recovery of the U.S. economy/fixing the unemployment problem” thing that everyone is so focused on.

4) If Boeing is the only bidder, we still need a coalition to support them getting the contract. Why? Glad you asked. Because EADS could protest the award, saying that the RFP was unfairly weighted toward Boeing. Or they could pressure Congress to pass a law saying that the Air Force has to divide up the contract and give work to both companies. (IMHO, Build Them Both is the worst name for a coalition ever.)

There you have it, folks. The unique and fascinating world of military procurement. By the way, a really interesting side note to this whole thing is the trend line that bringing tanker production to Everett would continue. A lot of folks believe that, no matter what, our region is going to do less and less commercial airplane manufacturing. Even if we solve some of the issues that is driving the company to look elsewhere, it is becoming a less workforce intensive process (more engineering and less machining).

However, we are starting to see that more defense work is being done here, from unmanned aerial vehicles to things that, if I told you about them, I’d have to use that Men in Black memory erasing device. And that work is really valuable because it’s more consistent (the military isn’t as up and down as the commercial airline market) and fits well with the profile of our region’s aerospace workforce. Combine that with the fact that the Boeing smart grid work is coming out of the defense side, and you’ve got a glimpse of what the region’s post-Boeing economy might like: lots of work with Boeing.


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