Politicians Take Sides In Boeing, Northrop Tanker Bid

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A heated competition between Northrop Grumman and Boeing for a giant Air Force contract is pitting two regions of the country against each other. Northrop won the contract last year but the Pentagon canceled it after a Boeing challenge. In a new round of bidding, southern politicians are upping the ante with a four-state alliance to lobby for the $35 billion contract.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A couple of U.S.-based corporations, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, are vying for a giant Air Force contract. The competition has pitted two regions of this country against each other, and a group of Southern politicians just upped the ante, as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: At stake is a $35 billion contract to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of tankers that refuel war planes in midair. Northrop Grumman would team with the European parent firm of Airbus to make the new tankers in Mobile, Alabama. Boeing would make them in Washington State.

Northrop won the contract last year, but the Pentagon cancelled it after a Boeing challenge. Now the fight is on again. Yesterday, Alabama Governor Bob Riley unveiled the nonprofit Aerospace Alliance to promote a Gulf Coast space and aviation corridor stretching from Louisiana to Florida. Its first priority: the lucrative tanker contract.

Governor BOB RILEY (Republican, Alabama): We are going to create American jobs in Alabama, Northern Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana.

(Soundbite of applause)

ELLIOTT: Riley touted the region's history with NASA and the military. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said the workforce is trained and ready.

Governor HALEY BARBOUR (Republican, Mississippi): And I'll tell you something: When you choose our workforce, you don't have to worry about them being out on strike when America needs them.

ELLIOTT: Labor unions, business groups and politicians in Washington State and Kansas are pushing Boeing's tanker bid.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.

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