UPDATE 2-EADS still seeking U.S. tanker partner

* Partner for bid is indispensable, CEO says

* Under-fire Lagardere maintains active EADS board role

(Adds quotes, background)

By Matthias Blamont and Tim Hepher

PARIS, April 21 (BestGrowthStock) – Airbus parent EADS (EAD.PA: ) is
still in talks to find a partner to support its bid for a deal
worth up to $50 billion to sell refuelling planes to the United
States, Chief Executive Louis Gallois said on Wednesday.

EADS North America went solo on Tuesday by announcing its
intention to challenge Boeing (BA.N: ) for the contract after
failing, according to reports, to find a key partner.
[ID:nN20110428]

“It is indispensable to have a partner,” Gallois said at a
news briefing in Paris.

The remark contrasted with statements from EADS North
America officials in outlining the bid on Tuesday.

Chief Executive Sean O’Keefe said U.S. authorities had
cleared EADS to perform classified work on the tanker, insisting
that EADS did not need another large U.S. partner to proceed.

Gallois said EADS still wanted to find a supplier with
access to sensitive technology in the United States.

“We are in discussion with a certain number of companies to
have a partner but this time not in the prime contractor role.”

EADS has until July 9 to finalise its offer in the contest,
triggering what analysts expect to be a ferocious battle.
EADS was part of a team led by Northrop Grumman (NOC.N: ) that
won a previous contest in 2008. The award was overturned on
appeal from Boeing, and Northrop last month pulled out of the
rematch saying the rules now favoured Boeing’s smaller plane.

Gallois said EADS did not share Northrop’s “too pessimistic”
view but said price would be a “decisive element” in the race.

EADS North America had been spurred by the Pentagon to take
the lead on a new bid, granting it access to data previously
seen only by Northrop, in order to maintain competition.

“We have a chance to win. The fact that we are now prime
contractor allows us to make savings,” Gallois said.

Sources familiar with the matter said EADS had lined up L-3
Communications (LL.N: ) and had been on the point of announcing
the partnership two weeks ago before L-3 pulled out.

POLITICAL PRESSURE

Gallois expressed disappointment at comments attributed to
Representative Norm Dicks, who heads the House Appropriations
Defense subcommittee. The Democrat politician told The Hill
newspaper last week he hoped U.S. firms would not join EADS.

“It is a curious statement. It suggests he doesn’t want
competition,” Gallois said.

“This is part of the pressure that exists. But we are
conducting and will conduct this battle. We will conduct it on
the basis of a better product which exists.”

Gallois said the NewGen 767-based tanker offered by Boeing
so far existed only on paper.

Boeing said only its tanker would meet all 372 requiremwents
laid down by the Air Force and at the lowest cost, while saving
$10 billion in fuel costs over 40 years compared with the A330.

Gallois dismissed French press speculation that the chief
executive of Lagardere (LAGA.PA: ), Arnaud Lagardere, had lost
interest in EADS, in which his media company owns 7.5 percent.

Lagardere, under pressure from an activist shareholder, said
this week he would take all the time neeeded before carrying out
his stated intention of selling out of EADS, a move which would
force a shake-up of a sensitive Franco-German shareholder pact.

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UPDATE 2-EADS still seeking U.S. tanker partner