Bid delay on tankers irks Boeing officials

WASHINGTON - The Boeing Co. said Thursday it saw no reason for the Pentagon to bow to pressure from a European aerospace company and extend the deadline for bids on a $35 billion contract for Air Force aerial refueling tankers.

Boeing said it was fully prepared to offer its own bid, but because of the delay, it would review all of its options.

“We are deeply disappointed with EADS-Airbus efforts to further delay this vital warfighting program and tilt the U.S. procurement process in its favor,” Boeing said in a statement. “EADS-Airbus has been fully engaged in the competition for four years and was always expected to provide the vast majority of its team’s work content.”

Analysts said Boeing is pulling off the gloves as it prepares to go after the contract.

“Boeing is playing hardball,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a national security think tank based in northern Virginia. “There is a 100 percent chance Boeing will bid. But they will forcefully make sure EADS isn’t given any advantage by the Pentagon.”

Thompson said the Boeing statement suggests the company will be doing everything it can to prevail in the competition. If Boeing feels it is being treated unfairly, Thompson said the company could file a protest with government auditors, take legal action or turn to Congress.

“They discovered the first time around they were too generous,” Thompson said. “Now Boeing is saying ‘don’t expect us to be generous if our interests are at stake.’”

The Pentagon announced Wednesday it would delay the bid deadline if the Europeans agree to compete. The Pentagon announcement came just hours after the tanker contract was discussed during a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which had sought a 90-day extension, was cagey about its plans. Guy Hicks, an EADS spokesman, explained the 90 days would be the minimum needed to prepare a “responsible proposal” but said the company would consider a 60-day extension.

“This is completely unacceptable,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement. “The extension means that we are once again bending the rules for a company that has refused to play by them. It is time to stop being held hostage by Airbus’ 11th-hour demands.”