Despite the celebrating that has taken place since Boeing was declared the winner in the Air Force’s New Tanker Sweepstakes, it may be wise not to start adding all those jobs and money into the state’s moribund economy just yet. After all, the new tanker project has the qualities of a reverse vampire – very hard to bring to life, and easy to kill.
Before the Pentagon’s announcement Thursday, the smart money, if there is such a thing in this long-running saga to replace the venerable KC-135, was actually on European Aerospace Defence and Space Inc.
So worried were members of the Washington congressional delegation that at least one prepared a scathing response to an Airbus victory. A press release from Rep. Jay Inslee, whose district includes many once and future Boeing workers, hit e-mail inboxes just minutes after the announce- ment with a subject line of “Decision Will Not Stand.”
The text was appropriately celebratory of Boeing as “the best choice for the next gen tanker.” His staff apparently learned the dangers of something news outlets around the region were doing: preparing a story for each eventuality, and put the wrong headline on the right story.
But it brings to mind the fact that in 2008, the “smart money” was on Boeing winning the contract. When Washington’s favorite aerospace giant with a headquarters elsewhere did not win, it appealed and won. EADS Airbus could do the same in the next week or so, and then where will we be?
About the same place we’ve been since fall 2001. That’s when several Washington congresspeople, including Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. George Nethercutt, started talking up the idea of leasing converted 767 tankers for the Air Force’s air refueling needs, solving a plethora of post-9/11 problems, from a slowdown in demand for commercial jetliners to an economic downturn to the fact that the KC-135 was designed when Eddie Haskell was trying to BS Mrs. Cleaver about what a nice dress she was wearing.
It was never quite clear what Boeing would do with the tankers after they were returned by the USAF at the end of the lease. One could envision a used tanker lot with generals from our European allies walking around, kicking the tires and asking for the aerospace equivalent of a Carfax.
Those tankers were supposed to be deployed by 2006, with the first ones at Fairchild Air Force Base. While that seems like an extra political inducement for the Washington delegation, it does seem to make sense that the lessees would keep their vehicles close enough to the lessor to take them in for scheduled maintenance.
The parade of horribles – bribes, political wrangling, contract bungling – that resulted in the KC-135s NOT being replaced for the next 9 1/2 years isn’t worth detailing here. Suffice to say, the new tanker fight brings to mind nothing so much as Yogi Berra’s line about when it ain’t over.
A hazing shade of winter
Spokane’s new senators were the subject of a fair amount of ribbing last week in the Legislature. Sen. Mike Baumgartner made his first official floor speech, and – as tradition dictates – he received some razzing from more senior members.
Not surprisingly, they had the most fun with Baumgartner’s selection earlier this month to The Inlander’s list of The Sexiest People in the Inland Northwest. Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry stood to offer comments, put her cell phone to the microphone and played a few seconds of “I’m Too Sexy.” Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, objected; not at the impropriety of playing the song, but to the version. It should have been the cover by Alvin and the Chipmunks, he said.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, serving as president pro tem, offered fake surprise. “The president was not aware there was a shortage of sexy men.”
The razzing continued the next day, when other freshmen made speeches. The newbies reminded Sen. Steve Hobbs of the Legislature’s version of a boy band, who could be dubbed the Spice Boys. Baumgartner would be Sexy Spice, Andy Hill of Redmond would be Baby Spice.
And Jeff Baxter, who is occupying Bob McCaslin’s former desk? Hobbs was asked. “Old Spice.”