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Originally published Wednesday, July 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Air Force tanker contract: Third time's the charm?

The contract to replace the Air Force's Eisenhower-era fleet of air-refueling tankers has had a remarkably tangled history. October 2001 2001: As...

Seattle Times staff

The contract to replace the Air Force's Eisenhower-era fleet of air-refueling tankers has had a remarkably tangled history.

October 2001: As the airline industry struggles following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Air Force proposes to lease 100 air-refueling tankers from Boeing at a cost of $20 billion or more. Sen. John McCain quickly becomes the chief critic, calling it "a sweet deal" for Boeing that would cost taxpayers more than alternative plans.

November 2003: Boeing fires CFO Mike Sears and Darleen Druyun, vice president of missile-defense systems, after concluding Sears improperly offered her a job in October 2002 while she was a top Air Force acquisitions officer overseeing the tanker contract. Boeing CEO Phil Condit resigns a week later.

May 2004: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld effectively scraps the tanker-leasing deal.

February 2005: CEO Harry Stonecipher says Boeing may close the slow-selling 767's Everett production line pending a tanker decision. The line stays open, though.

September 2005: Northrop Grumman officially teams up with EADS, the parent of European aircraft-maker Airbus, to bid for the contract.

April 2006: The Air Force formally reopens its procurement process for replacing tankers.

January 2008: The Airbus chief says EADS will assemble commercial jets as well as Air Force tankers in Mobile, Ala., if his team wins.

February 2008: The Pentagon announces that Northrop/EADS will build its next generation of tankers, now named the KC-45A.

March 2008: Boeing files a protest of the Air Force contract award. Company chairman and CEO Jim McNerney calls it "an extraordinary step rarely taken by our company, and one we take very seriously."

June 2008: The Government Accountability Office backs Boeing's protest, finding the Defense Department made at least seven major mistakes in the procurement process that detracted from "full and open competition and fairness." It says the Air Force should re-bid the contract.

Sources: Seattle Times archives and news services

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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