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EVERETT, Wash. -- Boeing employees and Washington state officials gathered Friday morning at the company's Everett factory to celebrate winning the $35 billion Air Force contract for a new aerial tanker fleet.

We've got the tools. We're ready to go. We can start today, said employee J.J. Jenkins.

Boeing's offer to build refueling tankers based on its 767 jetliner won out over a bid by EADS.

Boeing builds the 767 at the Everett plant. Among those at the rally were Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Representatives Jay Inslee and Dave Reichert, labor leaders, Boeing employees and company officials.

We believed in our product. We believed in our government and we're excited that we've got this contract, said worker Loraine Gibson.

The contract to replace the Air Force's half-century-old KC-135 tanker fleet is a major boost for the Puget Sound region and Wichita, Kan., where the planes will be built and modified. Boeing builds the 767 at the Everett plant.

Thursday's announcement came as a surprise to many after defense analysts, politicians, factory workers and even company executives had expected EADS to win the decade-long battle with Boeing, which had been marked by delays, missteps and bitter accusations.

We were very concerned because this is a very, very complicated process and we were concerned that EADS was able to put in a lower bid because they had government subsidies behind that A330 airframe, said Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (D). But Boeing was able, because it's been building these planes for a long time, to get the efficiency down and put a very, very competitive proposal on the table. So that's very big economic news for our region.

EADS said in a statement Friday that it would go over the issue with the Air Force, but said nothing about a formal appeal.

This is certainly a disappointing turn of events, and we look forward to discussing with the Air Force how it arrived at this conclusion, EADS North America Chairman Ralph D. Crosby, Jr. said.

The company said it was sending a letter to its employees explaining that the decision does not mean the end of EADS' efforts to expand in the United States.

The contract will support about 50,000 total U.S. jobs with Boeing and some 800 suppliers in more than 40 states, the company says. For Washington state alone, Boeing has said it would mean 11,000 jobs and $693 million in annual economic benefits.

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