The Air Force announced Thursday that the $35 billion contract that would have meant a major assembly plant and 1,500 or more jobs for Alabama’s Port City will go to Boeing, which means jobs and industrial growth for Washington state and Kansas.
Yes, Mobile — and all of Alabama — is disappointed.
Up to the last minute, it seemed as if the contract would go to EADS, the European-based company that would have done so much for our state had it won the contract. Boeing backers, they confessed later, were so discouraged by pre-announcement assessments by industry analysts that some had even composed “decision will not stand” e-mails.
But Boeing spent $17.8 million to sway Congress, while EADS spent only $3.2 million. Apparently, that investment paid off. Boeing got the coveted prize, and Alabama only has slim hope that the Boeing operation in Huntsville might pick up some of the crumbs.
The excuses and justifications are now flying between the camps. Boeing supporters claimed it was a victory for the American worker because EADS’ parent company, Airbus, is European. However, it has never been clearly shown that American workers were going to lose jobs to their counterparts overseas if EADS got the gig.
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, blamed the decision on the White House and its ties to Chicago, where Boeing is headquartered. “Only Chicago politics,” Shelby said, “could tip the scales in favor of Boeing’s inferior plane.” Other members of the state congressional delegation echoed those sentiments.
Before the decision, EADS had said it would not challenge the outcome unless a review found “egregious” errors by the Air Force. That review is under way, but with pressure coming from those who supported the EADS bid, there is reason to believe a protest may be filed.
Some observers have suggested that Boeing’s bid was so much lower than EADS’ that it was hard to turn down. EADS chief operating officer said as much when he admitted if it came down to price, “we would lose.” However, others pointed out that Boeing had a history of cost overruns and Boeing planes could prove more costly in the end.
What led to the Air Force decision won’t be known until the review is finished. At that point, EADS will either let the decision stand or file a protest. If a protest is filed, the project will be delayed again.
Lost in all of this is the fact that the Air Force needs new tankers and it needs them now — and it needs a plane well suited for the job.
Thus far, many in the industry, and in Alabama, are not convinced the best plane was chosen.