WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. said it won't rule out a protest in the U.S. Air Force's aerial tanker competition after officials mistakenly sent the Europeans and Boeing data on the competitor's bid.
When pressed about the possibility of a protest in case EADS loses the $40 billion air plane contract, Sean O'Keefe, head of EADS North America, told Defensenews.com he "would never rule out any action."
It surfaced last week that the Air Force sent technical assessment letters to competitors Boeing and EADS, the parent of Airbus, that were meant for the other company. O'Keefe said no EADS employee had read the documents, adding that it was packed up and sent back immediately.
It wasn't clear how or if the mix-up would affect the bidding process. The contract award date for the 179 in-flight refueling tankers has been pushed back several times, with latest comments pointing to the first quarter next year as the new deadline. The Air Force initially said it would award the contract in the fall and then before the end of this year.
Both companies filed bids in July, after the Air Force granted EADS a 60-day bidding extension because its American partner, Northrop Grumman, pulled out of the competition. The Los Angeles company left saying the bidding conditions clearly favor Boeing, a claim denied by U.S. officials.
EADS is throwing its KC-45 tanker, a large plane based on the Airbus A330, into the race. The Americans are bidding with an altered version of its Boeing 767, called New Generation Tanker.
EADS claims its plane should make the cut because it has logged several in-flight testing hours. The Boeing plane, O'Keefe said, is just "a PowerPoint presentation."
Speculation has soared that Washington might split the contract and order planes from both companies; EADS has in the past said it would go for the full deal but would be ready to respond to any size of orders.
"There have been a number of acquisition scenarios put forward over the last several years, split buy being one approach that is appealing to some," Defensenews.com quoted EADS spokesman Jamie Darcy as saying in an e-mailed statement. "The bottom line is that acquisition policy is up to the Department of Defense. We're focused on the current competition and remain confident in our offering."