This is the fourth in a series of reports from the EADS media day and the Paris Air Show. We will be off-line Wednesday while returning to to USA.
Source: Winds of Change. Rendering of the KC-767 and KC-777.
Source: Catch 4 All: Comparisons of KC-777, KC-30, KC-767, KC-135 footprints.
Boeing held a dedicated tanker briefing Tuesday (June 16) to add detail to the announcement Monday by IDS President Jim Albaugh, who said the company’s tanker program has been remained KC-7A7. This designation reflects the ambiguity of what airplane Boeing will offer: a 767-based or a 777-based aircraft.
Dave Bowman, Boeing’s VP-Tanker Programs, told reporters that the company evaluated basing a tanker on every sub-type of the two airplane programs. Boeing previously offered the KC-767AT, a model based on the conceptual 767-200LRF. This is not off the table, either.
There was clear skepticism by journalists whether Boeing could offer the KC-777 on a timetable that could beat the Northrop Grumman KC-30, which is schedule to enter service with the Australian Air Force as the KC-30 MRTT in 1Q10.
Bowman admitted that if schedule were the driving criteria, the KC-777 would be at a disadvantage. There is room at Boeing’s Everett (WA) plant to build this tanker, said Pat Shanahan, vice president of products and services.
Bowman said studies on the 767-300 and -400 were conducted as well. An illustration during his presentation showed a 767 with winglets, which typically improves fuel burn by 3% to 5%. Bowman said this illustration did not suggest Boeing was offering this feature but said that it was studied.
He also said that the new-technology GEnx engine could be offered on either the 767 or 777, or either Pratt & Whitney or GE engines on either the 767 or 777s.
As we reported earlier, the flexibility by Boeing to have several offerings, in our view, puts Northrop and EADS/Airbus at a great disadvantage if they stick with the KC-30, which is based on the Airbus A330-200. Theoretically a tanker could be offered on the somewhat larger A340 or the A330-300, but it’s unclear how much, if any, R&D has been done on either concept, and one based on the four-engine A340, regardless of sub-type, will be significantly more costly on fuel than any of the competition.
Airbus had previously studied putting the GEnx on the A330 for its first iteration of the A350, but we understand there are engine diameter challenges and perhaps weight/CG issues. Following the success Boeing protest of the USAF award to Northrop, there was speculation that Northrop/EADS/Airbus would offer the GEnx on the A330 in Round 3, but at the time we were told this was unlikely.
We believe the entire Northrop team now is in the position of playing catch-up to Boeing, which put the last nine months to good use in coming up with a variety of alternatives.
How many of these alternatives may be straw men or infeasible remains to be seen. Boeing may be deliberately ambiguous to keep the competition off-balance, with the intent narrowed already to two potential proposals. Regardless of the true state of affairs right now, we think Boeing has the upper hand in this beginning chess game. Whether the Northrop team can prevail again is the $40bn question.