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Originally published December 8, 2010 at 4:23 PM | Page modified December 9, 2010 at 9:52 AM

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Airbus parent seeks bids to build Alabama tanker plant

Airbus parent company EADS announced Monday it is soliciting bids for design and construction of a facility in Mobile, Ala., where it hopes to convert A330 freighter airframes into aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Airbus parent company EADS announced Monday it is soliciting bids for design and construction of a facility in Mobile, Ala., where it hopes to convert A330 freighter airframes into aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

EADS will build the facility only if it beats Boeing for the $40 billion tanker contract. The controversial contract award is expected early in the new year.

If EADS wins, some initial Air Force A330 tankers would be built in Europe and converted at the new Mobile facility. Later, EADS will also build the A330 tankers in a separate new final assembly plant in Mobile.

At peak rate, about 15 tankers a year are to be produced.

Once the tanker line is in production, Airbus intends also to assemble perhaps twice as many A330 commercial freighter aircraft at the same plant.

That could mean up to 45 wide-body jets a year eventually rolling out in Mobile, creating a substantial U.S. presence for the European planemaker.

EADS claims that 48,000 jobs in the U.S. will be created or supported by an A330 tanker program, with 1,500 people directly employed in Mobile.

Those numbers are purely for the tanker program. "Once we build (A330 commercial) freighters, that number would go up," said EADS spokesman Guy Hicks.

Boeing claims that a win for its 767 tanker proposal will support 50,000 U.S. jobs at Boeing and its suppliers, including 11,000 in Washington State.

In Everett, Boeing will accommodate a tanker win by moving the 767 production line to the rear of the giant assembly building.

Facilities engineers have installed a new door at the rear of the assembly building so the 767s can exit out the back. And they have cut a corner off the building to allow room for the airplane to be towed around to Paine Field.

Boeing spokeswoman Leslie Hazzard said that by the end of January the new assembly line will be up and running. The first jet to be assembled on it will be the 1001st 767.

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The changes in Everett will go ahead whether or not Boeing wins the tanker contract. The 767 line has to be moved anyway to make room for an extra 787 Dreamliner "surge" line needed until an assembly line in Charleston, S.C. is operational.

This week, hopes for a Boeing tanker win dimmed when a leading defense analyst and Congressional sources disclosed that Boeing executives are pessimistic after inadvertently leaked data seemed to favor the EADS airplane.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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