Boeing Loses Korean Tanker Contract to Airbus

Airbus A330 MRTT tanker
Source: Airbus Group NV
Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) and European rival Airbus compete with one another for essentially every sale either company makes. It is no wonder then that keeping score has become a spectator sport. Chalk up one for Airbus, which has reportedly won the race to supply the South Korean Air Force with a new in-flight refueling tanker. The contract for four planes is valued at $1.25 billion.

The Airbus Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) is based on the Airbus A330-200 passenger jet and has been designed to fulfill a number of roles in addition to operating as an in-flight refueling tanker. The plane has been selected for various missions by the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and India. South Korea now will be added to that list.

Boeing’s answer to the MRTT is the KC-46A, which is based on a version of Boeing’s 767-200ER, dubbed the 767-2C, that has been modified with a strengthened main-deck cargo floor, cargo door and freighter features, 787-based cockpit, auxiliary fuel tanks and plumbing and wiring to support the refueling boom and mission systems. The sole customer for the KC-46A is the U.S. Air Force, which has ordered 179 of the planes. Boeing is scheduled to deliver the first 18 of the planes by August 2017.

South Korea’s order will be delivered in two batches: the first two in 2018 and the other two in 2019, according to a report at the Korea Herald.

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What may have tipped the scales in favor of the Airbus MRTT is its availability. The plane is already flying and the South Koreans, who themselves have stalled with buying new tankers since the mid-1990s, wanted delivery in 2017. Apparently Airbus cannot meet that date for manufacturing reasons, but Boeing almost certainly would have pushed deliveries to South Korea out to at least 2019.

The first test flight of the modified Boeing 767-200ER took place last December, and the first test flight of a KC-46A has been delayed from April of this year to some unspecified date this summer. Boeing claims it can meet the schedule demands of the U.S. Air Force, but the schedule has gotten very tight and South Korea’s order likely would have been pushed out even further.

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