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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Airbus Updates No.36/11

Airbus Tanker Plane Damaged In Test

Airbus Military on Thursday said it was investigating the loss of part of a refuelling boom over the Atlantic during testing of a tanker plane being developed for the Royal Australian Air Force.
The European plane maker does not expect the incident to delay the first delivery of the aircraft, which is scheduled for February, a spokesman said on Thursday.

The incident happened over the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday at 4 pm GMT during in-flight testing between an EADS MRTT tanker plane and a Portuguese air force F-16 fighter, the spokesman said.
The boom, or refuelling arm, was damaged when it lost one of its two stabilising fins, making the device uncontrollable. The cause of the incident was not reported.

Refuelling planes, or aerial tankers, are used to refuel fighter jets and other military planes in mid-flight, extending their ability to get to distant battlefields if needed.

"We are flying in almost operational conditions," the spokesman said. "We hope to determine the origin of the malfunction and proceed with deliveries. At this point we don't see any delay in the first delivery next month," he said.

The damaged aircraft was not among the first two planes due to be delivered to Australia.
The mishap comes at a critical time for Airbus parent EADS as the United States weighs a decision on whether to buy tanker planes from the European group or rival Boeing in a contract worth up to USD$50 billion.

A decision on that deal could come as early as next month, although some industry officials and US lawmakers now say it may slip into March since the Air Force has not yet asked the rival bidders to submit final proposal revisions.

Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat and strong Boeing supporter, said she had questions about what happened, noting that the air refuelling boom was a "core competency" in the US Air Force competition.

"It's just a reminder that Boeing has been in the refuelling business for 50 years," she said.
Cantwell said the Air Force needed to answer serious questions at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing next week about a clerical error that gave both bidders access to each others' proprietary data last year.

"Even if this release was inadvertent, it can have far reaching consequences if not addressed properly, if it ends up violating laws and fair-competition regulations, or if it directly impacts a bidder's strategy for establishing its final price in a competition," Cantwell wrote in a letter on Thursday to Senator Carl Levin, the committee's chairman.

EADS expects to deliver the first A330-based tanker to Australia "in the coming weeks," said Guy Hicks, a spokesman for the North American unit of EADS.

He cautioned against jumping to conclusions. "It's premature to speculate on what caused this incident," Hicks said. "However, because aerial refuelling is an inherently dangerous operation, in-flight incidents are not uncommon."

The US Air Force recorded more than 635 aerial refuelling mishaps over the last six years.
Boeing declined to comment on the Airbus incident.

Boeing spokesman Felix Sanchez said Italy had accepted the first of four 767-based tankers built by Boeing on December 29, and arrangements were being made to fly the plane to Italy.
In September, Boeing and Italy had said that Boeing would deliver the first two tanker planes by the end of 2010.

Sanchez said work continued on the delivery process for a second tanker, but Boeing and Italy had agreed to "further enhance present capabilities on the final two Italian KC-767 tankers," which would delay their delivery. He gave no revised delivery schedule.

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