Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Future US Aerospace Job Losses

Today at Tanker War Blog we are fighting the procurement of an EADS tanker but the implications go far beyond just the shutting an American company out of the aerial refueling business for the next 20 years and the job loss associated with such an event.

In fact this contract has a number of large procurement implications for strategic and tactical airlift in the future.

An areas of great speculation about this contract has always been why the Air Force only very late in the RFP process decide that it might want a larger aircraft.

Aviation industry analyst Scott Hamilton nicely sums up one of these possible reasons for this bigger-is-better preference switch at the end of page 3 in his recent commentary paper:
It’s also worth remembering that one of the reasons the Air Force selected the KC-30 was for its greater troop and cargo carrying capability than offered by the KC-767.

USAF Lockheed C-5 fleet is getting old—the average age is approaching 28 years. The Air Force also doesn’t want any more Boeing C-17s when the current order book is filled.

The KC-30 has the ability to supplement the aging, and increasingly unreliable, C-5s and the over-taxed C-17s, which now support two wars.

Many on the Hill believe the reason the Air Force started to look at a larger aircraft is that, in DoD's mind, in order to buy more F-22s and keep the F-22 assembly line open, it must first cut funding for the C-17 and close the C-17 assembly line. The Air Force, it is reasoned, can not continue to afford to keep both assembly lines open.

So by purchasing the KC-30 the Air Force can afford more F-22's and not suffer adversely from the C-17 line closing, as it plans to make up for the airlift requirements using the KC-30 as a cargo hauler.

The only trouble with this line of thinking is that the KC-30 is not a true cargo aircraft. So eventually in the future more strategic airlift will need to be purchased. And, what will be the only true strategic cargo aircraft available after the C-17 line closes? Why the heavily subsidies and EU protected EADS/Airbus A400M.

It is feared that to get more F-22's, the Air Force is not only willing to buy an Airbus derived tanker, but shut the C-17 assembly line, cut back on C-5 modernization, and possibly purchase the Airbus A400M in the future. It should also be noted that if they do buy A400Ms the Air Force would inevitably buy less American made C-130Js.

So if you are an American working on the C-17, the C-130J, or the C-5 Galaxy Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program be warned, your job is probably next to be given to EADS.

We would also warn those airlines and aircraft owners that are now part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) that the rules and need for this program may change if the KC-30 is purchased; so you might want to pay a bit more attention to this contract than you have in the past.

Rest assured though, the issue of how the selection of a tanker was tilted to overwhelming favor airlift capabilities without sufficient evaluation, study, or consultation will most certainly be an issue Congress will take up before this controversy is over.

For the record, most of us here at TWB hold the position that the Air Force needs more F-22s, more C-17s ,and new tankers. DoD should not give the Air Force roles and missions and then not fund the needed items. Cutting corners and forcing the purchase of a tanker/freighter hybrid is the wrong move. In the long run it will only provide less capability in both areas and cost more overall.


Scott Hamilton said...

You correctly touch on the CRAF issue but for reasons you don't adequately explain. As I previously wrote, Northrop--in perhaps one of the best points it's made in its current press release campaign--noted the collapse of ATA Airlines, one of the biggest CRAF suppliers (in terms of aircraft under contract). With fuel prices threatening all US legacy carriers with bankruptcy, the USAF's CRAF capacity is potentially threatened as well. This makes a strong case for the greater capabilities of the KC-30.

Tanker War Blog said...

Scott, we only want to point out that the KC-30 may change CRAF and that such changes have effects that have not been fully investigated. Some in DoD might think it is a good thing to reduce dependence on CRAF, while others might see it as an expensive duplication of effort. Due to high fuel prices practically everyone in America is downsizing their vehicles. But, the Air Force is up sizing so they can haul more stuff. The question remains is this the most cost effective and efficient way to haul cargo?

Scott Hamilton said...

Valid point on CRAF but the reference to downsizing vehicles is mixing apples with oranges. While this may be true for motorists, airlines are striving for more efficient airliners. While it's true Boeing claims (underscore, "claims") that the KC-767 uses 24% less fuel than the KC-30 (the USAF, Northrop and Airbus say the difference is 6%), the greater capability of the KC-30 provides more efficiency on a payload basis; citing raw fuel burn figures is only half the story, as Boeing well knows but conveniently avoids. (Which I would, too, had I been them.)

I'll also point out that the airlines have long-since spoken on the 767 vs. A330 (on which the KC-30 is based): the A330 essentially put the 767 out of business and continues to sell extremely well; the 767 struggles to stay alive and does not sell well. This is an extremely telling fact.

The underlying question was and remains: what kind of airplane did the Air Force really want? "Just" a tanker (in which case, the KC-767 is the closer solution) or a much more capable multi-role tanker-transport (in which case the KC-30 is the better solution)? The Air Force ultimately said the latter.

The underlying question that has to be answered by the GAO is "What (if anything) did the Air Force tell Boeing and when did they tell it?" with respect to what sized airplane it wanted--or did Boeing completely misread the situation?

Tanker War Blog said...

Scott, one more comments post from us then we got to stop meeting on-line like this; people are going to start talking. Also, these are getting a bit long winded and we can always take our policy ponderings off-line.

First, we would counter that the concept of having more cargo capability than you need whether it be a large SUV or a tanker/cargo is not an apples to oranges comparison. Our point is that you end up paying daily for a capability you possibly need only occasionally.

Second, in our minds it really would not matter who’s fuels statistics you believe, because the Air Force should have had their own analysis on fuel usage as part of their determination of life-cycle costs. As Dr. Thompson pointed out yesterday, it doesn’t seem they did.

Third, the fact that “airlines have long-since spoken on the 767 vs. A330” in our minds may be a false comparison. The airlines main job is to carry pax while the tankers main job is to pass fuel. If the Air Force wants to get in the airline business than yes may be the A330 is the better choice.

You are right that for the GAO the question may ultimately be “What kind of airplane did the Air Force want?” But of we would propose the question for Congress and DoD should be “What kind of aircraft does the Air Force need?”

Best regards,
Tanker War Blog

ewaggin said...

Scott Hamilton -

You neglected to mention that the airlines have also spoken on the 777 vs the A330. Unsurprisingly, since the 777 has beaten the pants off the A330 since it entered the market (and despite a 3 yr headstart for the A330).

If the USAF is concerned about carrying cargo (other than to destinations that can only be served by the C-17), they would be far better off to buy the 777F (or sponsor its use in the CRAF).

Scott Hamilton said...

Hi EWaagin:

I agree the market has spoken on the 777 vs. the A340 (not the A330). The A340 is the competitor to the 777; the A330 is the competitor to the 767.

ewaggin said...

Scott -

The 777 competes against both the A330 and the A340, and always has. It could do so because it was certified for ETOPS from the beginning.

Airbus bet against ETOPS, and sold the A330 for shorter flights and the A340 for longer ones.

But ETOPS has been a big success, and orders for the A340 have just about stopped, as it is much more expensive to operate.

Anonymous said...

as a complete outsider I have to wonder about this blog. The moment the announcement was made 'good ol' Boing (sp deliberate) threw in the joker card and the good ol' GOA sided with them - is there EVER a fair competition when dealing with Boing???
p.s. who is paying for all this - oh yes - the American Tax Payer - poor sods...