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Washington towns vie for aircraft assembly plant bid

The Associated Press

SPOKANE ' Representatives from three Washington cities with ties to The Boeing Co. will meet next week with Airbus SAS in hopes of landing a possible aircraft assembly plant.

Spokane, Everett and Moses Lake will make pitches to Airbus as possible locations for a &

36;600 million plant where aerial tankers might one day be built for the U.S. Air Force.

It's considered a longshot because the Department of Defense has not yet decided to replace its fleet of aging Boeing-built KC-135 tankers. And Congress must agree to open up the contract to competition for Airbus to be a contender.

The Pentagon last November nullified a potential &

36;23 billion deal that called for Boeing to supply tankers based on Boeing's 767 passenger jet and said it would consider alternatives, such as opening the contracts to competition.

That piqued interest at the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., Airbus's majority owner, which has said it would like to choose an American location should it be chosen to build a replacement tanker.

It is a long shot for us, said Theresa Sanders of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council.

— The state's Office of Community Trade and Economic Development is coordinating efforts by the three cities that prequalified, Sanders said.

Airbus asked states to select three cities that would be capable of providing the work force, transportation options and resources needed for the tanker site.

All three from Washington state have links to Boeing: Everett is the site of the Boeing plant where 767s, 747s and 777s are assembled. Moses Lake has a Boeing's flight testing facility, and Spokane formerly was home to a Boeing parts plant.

Representatives of the three cities are to meet in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday with officials of EADS North America, the U.S. Airbus division.

About 100 other U.S. officials also are expected to meet with Airbus officials, EADS spokesman Guy Hicks said.

Sanders said the visit offers a chance to check the list of expectations Airbus has for a possible location, and to see who else shows up.

One of my intentions is to be there to make sure we haven't missed anything, Sanders said.

Based on Airbus criteria, Spokane, Moses Lake and Everett are the only Washington cities that could qualify for the site, she said.

Airbus requires that a site have a 9,000-foot airport runway, room to build a 1.5 million-square-foot building, and reliable transportation service, including access to a deep-water port for moving huge pieces of equipment.

Spokane would emphasize its relative proximity to the Tri-Cities in south-central Washington and its access to the Columbia River to the Pacific coast, Sanders said.

Whether Airbus opens a U.S. assembly plant will depend on Congress and the administration, officials have said.

In the Bush administration's 2006 defense budget proposal, the Air Force gets about &

36;100 million to research the tanker question.

If the administration approves the idea of a competitive bid, the Defense Department said it would be able to prepare documents sometime in early 2006.

Within a few months, all 50 states will have identified cities to EADS North America as possible contenders for the plant. After that, the company will turn to a Texas-based consulting firm to winnow the group, Hicks said.