Home » Air » Air Force » Fuel Burn Costs May Have Tipped KC-X Scales in Boeing’s Favor

Fuel Burn Costs May Have Tipped KC-X Scales in Boeing’s Favor

by John Reed on February 25, 2011

While some may wonder why Boeing with its NewGen Tanker offering based off a smaller, older 767 design beat out EADS Airbus A330-based KC-45 to win the KC-X contract yesterday, it’s likely a matter of fuel efficiency and construction costs associated with housing the new jets.

From DoDBuzz:

The difference between the two bids may have come down the difference in fuel consumption, speculated Loren Thompson, defense consultant and analyst at the Lexington Institute. “The Airbus plane burns over one ton more of fuel per flight hour than the Boeing plane. Multiply that by 40 years and that’s a lot of money,” Thompson said. Boeing has argued for some time that its fuel consumption rate would save taxpayers “tens of billions” of dollars over the life of the program.

There’s also the question of military construction. Remember, both planes was also evaluated by how much cash the Air Force would have to spend to upgrade infrastructure at bases that currently house KC-135s to accommodate the larger Boeing and EADS jets. While the 767 is big, the A330 is a lot bigger. This might mean that modifications to things like ramps and hangars may cost more to accommodate the EADS jet. We won’t know for sure on this until the Pentagon tells us.

Another factor may be the number of tails the Air Force can deploy to crowded bases around the world. Naturally, you can fit more of the smaller 767s on a ramp than the A330. Again, we’ll see if this played a role in the decision to go with the Boeing plane.

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

guest February 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Another critical factor that pushed the scale firmly in Boeing's favor is Chicago.
Their corporate home and Obama's political home.

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blight February 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

The hub of Boeings operations is still Washington state.

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Gregory Savage February 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Or could it be possible that saving fuel saves money? Why have to build new hangers anyway if you have an option that fits in the original footprint.

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jamesb101 February 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Give me braek….Will Ya?

Look at all the comments in the first post on this…..

Wrong plane…
But it's a good political call….

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Frank2004 February 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm

This is the right plane. Fuel costs are a very demanding issue in the future, structure support is critical, access to airfields around the world is even more critical in a world in confusion, and lastly this is not a political call the Airbus platform does not allow the pilots to remain totally in control. Now, if you want the USAF to be beholden to a sometimes hostile government and want to pay exorbitant fees for parts and upgrades then sure buy a foreign built platform. This is the right platform for those reasons and national security reasons. Now, one last concern is the real number of employees. The basic platform for the Boeing platform is assembled in the US, not in FR, GER, SP, or Portugal. The parts are purchased from multitudes of US companies not foreign. Now, I dare say and challenge you to ask the everyday aviator flying the KC-135 and see what they think. It will be an answer you do not want to hear…built it here.

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jamesb101 February 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Frank….Frank….Frank….

Boeing makes darn good planes….
So does Airbus….

If you look at this post and the orignal one annoucing the decission you will see that ther a whole bunch of us who thing that the fuel burn thing is BS….

I'm with that feeling….

Boeing gets the contract because the choice was POLITICAL..OK?

Someone here just pointed out that since the EADS/Airbis A-330 carries more stuff (fuel/cargo) farther and faster the Air Force isn't saving a nickel with the 767…..
Further more the A-330 beholding?
Comeon!
The US works besides the Europeans everyday…and I got news for ya….what 30% of the 767 comes from where?
Foreign companies…that argument is batshit crazy…..

The basic A-330 platform was gonna be put together where?
MOBILE, ALABAMA!

This decession was politican my man….
Period!

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Guest March 2, 2011 at 11:29 am

Wrong plane? How so?

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jamesb101 February 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm

And to picture above is a drawing cause the plane ain't flying yet…..

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nagyja@gmail.com February 25, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Italy has their 767 tanker…
://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2011/02/01/352625/pictures-italy-accepts-first-delayed-kc-767a-tanker.html
So I don't know what you're talking about.

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Joe Schmoe February 26, 2011 at 4:26 am

Honestly, quit spewing nonsense while you're ahead.

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jamesb101 February 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

hey …..It's my keyboard….He, he, he…..

I stand by my views as do others…..

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Guest March 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

What an idiot you are… The 767 tanker exists and is service, just a different derivative. But then, based on your opinion, the A330, in KC-45 form doesn't exist either, since ALL of the initial testing was done on a A310.

But, we can see what happens when they finally did use an A330… The fuel boom falls off… I guess their fuel boom exists, huh? At least the F-16 didn't crash after the boom bounced off it…

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jamesb101 March 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm

The original bidded 767 is in some computer….
My Bad they went back to the Itialian and Japense one….
I corrected my comments…

The KC -45 if course does exist…
Yep…The boom did fall off one of A-330's…That sure didn't help EADS….

My main point is the A0330 is a bigger, newer, and better buy…
This decession wasn't about that…
Fuel burn over 40 years was away to tip this to Boeing….
This was a political call….
No doubt…

But they should just move ahead….
The currect a/c can qualify for 'landmark' status they are so old…

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hqi777 February 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm

It's kind of funny how we want to save fuel, but yet we're building tankers that keep pumping fuel…

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coolhand77 February 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Nothing wrong with using a 30 year old design that burns less fuel. 30 years of flight time with the base model means they SHOULD have the bugs worked out. Italian and Japanese tanker versions means that it should almost be a COTS piece of hardware, and there will be plenty of spare parts.
Plus, manufacturing jobs in the US…where was Airbus going to build their planes?

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jamesb101 February 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Mobile Alabama…..

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Ralph February 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm

a) Nonsense – they use a 30-year old commercial design as the baseline, but the whole tanker concept is new – high risk!

b) Mobile, Alabama, U.S.A.

AND they wanted to build also there Final Assembly Line for their commercial A/C (which no longer makes commercial sense). BTW, it would have been the first Final Assembly Line created in the US since WWII.

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ziv February 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Just how different is the KC-46A than the already flying Italian KC-767A and the Japanese KC-767J? It looks like all the hard work went into getting the Italian jets flying, the Japanese order appears to have happened a good deal more smoothly. Hopefully that bodes well for a smooth delivery of the KC-46A.

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Justin H February 25, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Our will do taxes

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Dev September 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm

The KC-46A is no different than the KC-767…ON THE OUTSIDE…Inside, however, will be the 787 Dreamliner cockpit (Which is all glass). It will also have the capability to have 20K extra fuel in a roll-on tank that will fit in the Fwd lower cargo area. I did my Masters paper on the competition. I went in with open eyes and was really looking at both withoout a slant either way (TRUST me it was hard…Retired KC-35 Boom Operator)…The KC-767 beat the A-330 in Fuel. It beat it in Bed-down (Where you can put the thing). It beat it in Avionics…The ONLY thing the A-330 did better is haul cargo. The one question that EVERYONE has forgotten is “What aircraft are we replacing?” The KC-767 has 19 total pallet positions…the A-330 has 32…BUT the KC-135 only has 6 LOW PROFILE positions. So already you have TRIPPLED your cargo capability with this aircraft. NEITHER aircraft have permanently mounted FWD and AFT body tanks, which is NOT good. If I was king for a day I’d do 2 things…A) Bring back SAC…and B) Boeing has the Jigs for the KC-135…get them puppies back to work and build a modern KC-135 with newer avionics and engines. Are we replacing an airlifter…or a TANKER…AMC has forgotten that.

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LEP1 February 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm

You do not need a PhD in aerospace engineering to figure out that a BIGGER and thus HEAVIER aircraft (Airbus A330-MRTT) will burn more fuel than a smaller and thus lighter aircraft (B767 – KC-767). The question is, given that the A330-MRTT also has a greater range than the B767 – KC-767, whether such a fuel burn rate is justified for each mile flown and ton of fuel/cargo carried. If the B767 – KC-767 defeats the EADS product for typical USAF refueling-cargo mission profiles of the then the case is over and the correct choice was made. However, if the USAF needs MORE B767-KC-767 FLIGHTS and FLIGHT HOURS to accomplish long-range refueling – cargo missions than what the A330-MRTT can do then I and many other U.S. taxpayers got a problem because the USAF will have a problem.

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praetorian February 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm

If the airforce needs the longer range just use the bigger KC-10 in those situations. We have over 50 KC-10's

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blight February 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Alternatively, they may have felt the capability gap between the KC-10 and the A330 made the buy redundant? I'd have to go look some stuff up…

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LEP1 February 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm

The USAF air base modifications are a secondary factor in the whole cost-benefit analysis since these are going to be one-time costs that can be amortized over a very long period of time, e.g., 35+ years. Such costs would have been a serious consideration if the aerial refueling tankers were to be housed in hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) as sometimes happens with fighter aircraft. I can see the need, the possibility, and the cost of constructing such HAS facilities in USAF air bases in Guam and South Korea for aerial refueling aircraft. However, ordinary hangars are used for such aircraft in the continental U.S. and Hawai.

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nagyja@gmail.com February 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

The amortized costs are at the heart of the lifetime cost of these aircraft and the decision. Boeing's plane is a cheaper and more cost effective over its life. It all came down to if the 330's luxury items out weighed their added cost relative to Boeing's offering.

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anon February 25, 2011 at 7:34 pm

forget all those ridiculously over-budget contracts, we're saving money on fuel!

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anon1 February 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Both designs meet the requirements. None offer less capability than KC-135. Buy the cheaper one to operate.

Took them a decade to figure it out. Blame the politicians.

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ziv February 25, 2011 at 9:11 pm

The 60 relatively new and larger KC10's in the airforce fleet are the big dog in this fight. If we look at the KC767 and/or the A330 as a replacement for the medium sized KC 135, it makes less sense to emphasize the slightly larger size of the A330, since it is supposed to complement the KC10, not be an inferior, slightly smaller version thereof. The KC767 makes sense where the A330 does not because it doesn't try to be a replacement for the KC10, it fills the gap by being the more efficient, forward based, medium tanker.

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Guest March 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Thanks John McCain…

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eurofaircompetition February 25, 2011 at 9:20 pm

"Fuel Burn Costs May Have Tipped KC-X Scales in Boeing’s Favor

Read more: http://defensetech.org/2011/02/25/fuel-burn-costs
Defense.org" according to the lobbyists…. yeah sure

Yes, I'm a European, and Dutch to be exactly… this is just a load off bullsh*t, just as the F35 costs less than $100M per aircraft. We should cancel our involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter (while we still can, as we are in the process to buy a single test aircraft) and choose a European fighter (Rafale, Eurofighter or Gripen) instead…

If the US (senators or defense industry) can't deal with fair competition, why should we?

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Ben February 26, 2011 at 3:22 am

The hypocrisy is staggering.
large segments of the EU economy are centered around "unfair" trade practices which subsidize the agriculture and industries of the member states.

Of particular relevance to this discussion is the fact that while the WTO found that Boeing received 1.5 billion in "unfair" subsidies when Airbus sued them, they also found that AIRBUS received over 20 billion in "unfair" subsidies when Boeing sued them back.

Furthermore, the entire reason for the court case was that the 20 billion in subsidies was allowing Airbus to significantly underbid their cost for this very tanker program.

You are claiming that Boeing versus both Airbus plus the EU is a fair competition?
If you don't want US nationalism to come into play, then keep your own government out of it.

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Gregory Savage February 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Man you sound bitter. So since a European company is in it we should automatically buy it since they are our allies and may or may not buy our weapons. So it's a must we buy your weapons, even if they don't fit the requirement as much as the American counterpart?

Another big part of the argument is runway lengths. I'm not exactly sure how long the runways are but I am pretty sure the airbus needs over a mile to take off, I'm not sure what the 767 needs, but I read it was significantly less. It's not like European countries line up to purchase all of our weapons.

America sells the most advanced, you Europeans buy one copy of our advanced system, make your own. You guys can't make nothing without us innovating first. Look at the land warrior vs felin. Both the Griffin and the Rafeal have key US technologies that aren't exactly exportable, Europe is striving hard to make some sort of global hawk competitor. Why should we have to buy your imitation copies of things invented in the US.

It's not like Germany is using an M1 tank, nor Britain or France. Not like they are using our Ageis bmd. It's a free market and no one is forced to any product.

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Ralph February 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Really? If Europeans just "copy", why is it that the A330 tanker is flying and the Boeing one is not? Oh, and where is the A380 copied?

It is incredible how arrogant some nationalistic guys can be….

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Charles G February 27, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Because if it were not for the US, you national language would be German.

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Charles G February 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Sorry. Should be: Because if it were not for the US, your national language would be German

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MikeH February 28, 2011 at 11:12 am

So why wasn't the US invited to compete the A400 program?

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Ralph February 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Because it would fall under Foreign Military Sales and the US would have veto rights on its usage… and the Europeans are fed up with that.

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Guest March 2, 2011 at 11:45 am

Hey, Dumb@$$… You don't think this is fair? Do you think it was fair that although Airbust preferred using a P&W engine for their A400M, but the European governments vetoed that engine and forced them to use an all-European engine?

The funny thing about that was their "European" engine greatly contributed to costs and delays, so in the end, they got what they deserved.

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Ralph February 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

And don't you realize that all US aircraft and military component sales are performed as "Foreign Military Sales" (FMS) through the Pentagon, who has a veto on what may or not be exported (often, to favor US companies) and for what purpose it may be used? Why should Europeans buy a US engine to find out that the Pentagon tells them what they can use the A400M for and for what not?

A minor equipment could be done without, but an engine?

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jamesb101 February 26, 2011 at 11:12 am

I'll bet this is the biggest comments issue in a long time here!

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blight February 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Nope. I've seen a few punch over a hundred, and not that long ago.

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jamesb101 February 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

Go people!

I just want to see what the end price for this will be ……

$35 Billion…..
Yea…Right…..

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Oblat February 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm

There is no mystery why Boeing won with an obsolete design and inefficient production line, they combined graft with a plan to raise the price through change orders.

"It's the happiest day in my professional life, if you want to know the truth. To finally win this thing, after 10 years of struggle. . . . How sweet it is."

“This was a real victory of our congressional delegation,” “This is, I think, our greatest victory in the history of the state. In particular, congressional allies successfully pushed the Pentagon to change its evaluation of life-cycle costs from 25 years to 40 years, greatly boosting the smaller Boeing tanker’s fuel savings, Dicks said.

- U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

Dicks has replaced Murtha as the new King of Pork on the defense committee.

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Guest March 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

You're right, it had to get political to remove the unfair handicaps given to the A330.

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Stan February 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Less fuel burn per unit of useable payload or just less fuel burn? If you need 4 767s to do what 3 A330s could accomplish that doesn't amount to improved fuel burn, unless of course it is in the end less fuel/payload.

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Curt February 27, 2011 at 8:01 am

Less fuel burn per flight hour, by about 1 ton per hour. Fuel burn per payload is perhaps useful to an airline, similiar to cost per seat mile at a specific range, but means very little to tankers. The vast majority of tanker flights ever need their full payload. Its not like you send out an extra 0.5 B2s or 0.27 C5s. Tankers aren't gas stations, they go out for a specific reason and return. You rarely if ever need all your payload but you still have to lift an extra 33% of weight every single flight.

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Mitch S. February 26, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Fuel burn, aircraft size vs KC10, runway length are all interesting points but how did they play out in the previous assessment which Airbus won?
(I admit I don't have time to do the homework on this question).

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Curt February 27, 2011 at 8:09 am

I would recommend the GAO report, it is pretty quick read and easy to find with google. The whole gist of the problem last time was that the USAF used criteria to select the A330 that wasn't part of the RFP. The selection was so riddled with errors that the GAO stopped after 8 major mistakes and sent it back without ruling on the others. So not sure anything useful came out of it other than how not to run a competition.

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US Taxpayer March 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Well since these aircraft rarely deliver the entire fuel load, it looks like they even up the playing field considerably.

Actually (in case you missed it), Boeing actually won the previous contest. It was by procedural mistakes from the Air Force that EADS won. But instead of correctly awarding it to Boeing, they rebid the competition.

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Curt February 27, 2011 at 8:12 am

I am not seeing why this is such a surprise. The USAF said they wanted a medium tanker, EADS said the RFP favored a medium tanker, and the medium tanker won. What's so surprising about that.

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Trex February 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Man up, its about time we build something in America. Boeing has always built high quality, long life aircraft that aircrews loved. It will be a great airframe for great USAF.

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Pete March 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Build American, buy American! Slow down the job & money hemorhage to companies outside the USA, especially when we can build it better ourselves (in this case better means fuel economy & product usability).

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jamesb101 March 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

Guys….

BOTH PLANES WHERE GOING TO BE PUT TOGETHER IN AMERICA!

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Guest March 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm

No… The first few planes (if the A330 was selected) were flying in from Toulouse for modification and final assembly… And there was no numbers listed as to the number of A330's that would fly into Mobile for this modification… 10? 20? 50? 179?

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jamesb101 March 2, 2011 at 2:47 pm

ok….if you are going to make 170 planes we're gonna argue of the first few planes that woulkd have been here in a year or two as apposed to boeing that won't be here for who know how long?

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Ralph February 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Have ANY of the European-bashers realized that the BIGGEST aerospace customer in the U.S. is EADS (Airbus mother company), at the tune of 10 BILLION $/year?

And has any of the "buy American" proponents realized that Boeing buys / manufactures a lot of their components for planes outside the States (e.g, in Japan) and that (big gasp!) Airbus manufactures parts for Boeing?

Sorry, fellas, but the world is not black-and-white…

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