Boeing Co. may offer a tanker version of its 777 passenger jet in a new bid to win a $35 billion military contract to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of aerial refuelling planes, a company spokesman said Wednesday.
Chicago-based Boeing and a team comprising rival Airbus' parent company, European Aeronautics Defence and Space Co., and Northrop Grumman Corp. are girding for a new round of competition for the contract to build 179 planes.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates cancelled earlier bidding after the Government Accountability Office concluded the Air Force had unfairly penalized Boeing's smaller plane. Gates plans to restart the troubled process in the coming weeks.
Boeing spokesman William Barksdale said Wednesday the company may offer a tanker version of its popular 777 commercial jet along with the 767 it offered previously. The Northrop team's plane was based on Airbus' A330 passenger jet frame.
"It definitely is much more capable than the A330," Barksdale said in a telephone interview from Paris, where he is attending the Paris Air Show. "We've spent a lot of time not only listening to what the Air Force said to us, but also doing trade studies on what a bigger tanker would look like."
The 777 tanker would be virtually the same size as the A330, but would carry 23 per cent more fuel, 44 per cent more cargo and 42 per cent more passengers than the competing plane, Barksdale said.
If the Air Force doesn't want "a big, huge tanker," it could choose the 767, which remains a capable, agile widebody aircraft, he added. "We're just going to give that customer a lot to choose from."
Earlier this week, Ralph Crosby, CEO of EADS North America, said he was confident about the EADS-Northrop team's chances. "We're going to win," he said. "We won once, hey, the fundamentals haven't changed."
Shares of Boeing lost 18 cents at $48.65 in afternoon trading.