The two-way battle over a £13bn contract to equip the RAF with a new fleet of mid-air refuelling tanker aircraft intensified yesterday after a consortium led by BAE Systems and Boeing criticised the rival European bidder on cost and safety grounds.
The Tanker Team,which also includes Serco and Spectrum Capital, claimed that its design was 20 per cent safer than the competing Air Tanker proposal and would save the MoD £220m in direct operating costs over the 27-year life of the programme.
Air Tanker is offering the RAF 12 new Airbus A330 aircraft while Tanker Team's bid involves modifying 20 second-hand British Airways Boeing 767 jets.
The Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme, as it is known, is the biggest PFI contract yet and the winning bidder is due to be announced in December. The new fleet of tankers, which will replace the RAF's ageing TriStar and VC10 aircraft, will start to enter service in 2008.
Air Tanker, which is led by EADS, the Franco-German aerospace giant, with support from Thales, Cobham and Rolls-Royce, claimed earlier this week that the RAF would be lumbered with "inferior equipment" if it selected the BAE/Boeing consortium.
However, the Tanker Team said the A330 has not yet been subjected to "proximity tests" to ensure that military aircraft can get close enough to refuel without problems. It also claimed the A330 design is intrinsically less safe because its wing-mounted fuel pods are sited much closer to the engines of the A330 than is the case on the 767.
Keith Archer-Jones, the managing director of the Tanker Team, added that its bid was based on a design which would be in service with its launch customer, the Italian airforce, before the RAF even received its first tanker.
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