Boeing hopes for new Air Force contract

EVERETT - The Boeing Co. staged a rally Monday on the factory floor where it would build the KC-767 refueling tanker, emphasizing its eagerness to win back a multibillion-dollar Air Force contract.

Addressing several hundred 767 employees, executives for the airplane maker and members of Washington's congressional delegation exuded confidence that Boeing will win the deal.

"We're bringing the right airplane that delivers the best value for our customers with the very, very best capabilities available. And that, my friends, is the mighty 767," Scott Carson, head of Boeing's commercial airplanes division, told a cheering crowd.

Three years ago, Congress yanked a previous contract Boeing had won after revelations that the company hired a top Air Force acquisitions official who admitted giving the company preferential treatment before leaving the military. The former Air Force official and a former Boeing executive who hired her were sentenced to prison time.

Boeing redesigned the plane to make it more fuel efficient and allow it to take off and land on shorter runways, giving it more flexibility in combat situations.

Boeing is competing against Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., which has partnered with European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. to design a tanker based on a modified Airbus A330. The $40 billion contract for 179 planes would begin replacing the Air Force's aging fleet of Boeing KC-135s. It would be the first installment in what's expected to be a three-part deal calling for more than 500 planes.

Boeing would build the KC-767 at its widebody factory in Everett on the assembly line where it has produced nearly 1,000 commercial 767 passenger and cargo jets. Additional work, including installation of military refueling systems, would take place at its finishing center in Wichita, Kan.