Air Tanker Competition Is for Best Airplane: EADS

The fierce competition for the $35 billion Air Force tanker is about providing the best airplane, not about politics,EADS'sNorth American Chairman Ralph Crosby told CNBC Friday.

An Airbus A380 in take off.
Rajesh Nirgude
An Airbus A380 in take off.

"It's about buying the best possible tanker for the U.S. men and women in uniform who will be flying this airplane for the next 50 years," Crosby said.

EADS , the parent of Airbus, and Boeing are vying for the contract to replace 179 aging KC-135 refueling planes. It is expected to be the first piece of a project worth up to $100 billion to build a new fleet of jets.

Boeing submitted its bid for the contract by the Friday deadline; EADS submitted its bid Thursday. The Air Force will award the contract in November.

The competition has been tainted by charges by the World Trade Organizationthat EADS has an unfair price advantage because it was given subsidies by European governments to develop its commercial aircraft.

President Obama said Thursday that EADS subsidies are unfair and hurt American workers. Crosby shrugged off the criticism.

"I don’t think the primary discussion should be about a commercial trade issue which for policy and practical matters really should not enter into this competitive situation," Crosby said.

Boeing declined a request to speak with CNBC.

The competition, which pits the world's foremost jet makers against each other, is the latest Pentagon effort to award the contract over the past decade. Earlier attempts foundered over contractor disputes, Air Force errors, and criminal cases involving officials at the Pentagon and Boeing.

If EADS is awarded the contract, it will produce the airplanes in Mobile, Alabama, creating 48,000 jobs, Crosby told CNBC.

EADS also intends to establish a new center of commercial aerospace "right on Gulf Coast where we need the most economic impact today," he said.

The North American arm of the European aerospace company plans to produce commercial freighters at the Mobile site as well as the Air Force jets, Crosby said.