EADS waves off bid for Air Force One replacement

By Stephen Trimble

EADS North America (NA) will abstain from an opportunity to usurp Boeing as the next supplier for the US presidential aircraft fleet.

The US-based subsidiary of the European conglomerate, which includes Airbus, confirmed the company will not respond to a US Air Force request for information. The RFI is the first step in the process to acquire a replacement after 2017 for the Boeing 747-200-based VC-25 fleet, also known as Air Force One (AF-1).

Although the selection of, for instance, the Airbus A380 might have been politically explosive, EADS insists only business interests guided its decision.

The USAF plans to buy only three aircraft. That order is too small for EADS NA to justify the investment of shifting final assembly and engineering work from Europe to the USA – two key tenets of its North American growth strategy.

“After careful review, we’ve determined that participation in the AF-1 programme will not help us meet these business objectives,” an EADS NA spokesman says.

But the company is still active in the US defence market. EADS NA remains involved in the KC-X competition with Northrop Grumman, and is considering to bid for the US Army armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) contract. EADS also is delivering up to 322 UH-72A light utility helicopters to the army.

EADS first confirmed interest in the AF-1 replacement contract in October 2007. The company was invited to submit data on the A330, A340 and A380 as part of an analysis of alternatives. At the time, EADS spoke of providing the USAF more data about the A380 than provided to any other Airbus customer.

In September, EADS also posted a job advertisement for a business development executive, who would be tasked with marketing Airbus aircraft for a variety of USAF requirements, including AF-1.

Boeing is now the only likely platform supplier remaining for the AF-1 contract. The USAF is searching for a commercial widebody aircraft, leaving the 767, 777, 787 and 747-8 as available candidates.

Boeing delivered both VC-25s currently in service in 1990. The first one is scheduled to be replaced in Fiscal 2017 and the second in FY19. A third aircraft is also planned to join the expanded fleet in FY21.

Boeing has been the AF-1 supplier since 1962, when the 707-based VC-137 entered service.

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