The Defense Department, in talks with Boeing and Northrop Grumman on the reopened $40 billion refueling tanker competition, said it plans to issue the final request for proposals next week.

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Aerospace

Tanker guidelines to come next week

The Defense Department, in talks with Boeing and Northrop Grumman on the reopened $40 billion refueling tanker competition, said it plans to issue the final request for proposals next week.

Boeing and Northrop met separately Wednesday with Air Force and Pentagon officials for the third time in eight days, following the Aug. 6 release of the draft request for proposals. The Pentagon called the meeting, Boeing spokesman Daniel Beck said in an e-mail.

A second competition for the tankers follows a Government Accountability Office decision on June 19 to uphold a protest by Boeing, saying that the U.S. Air Force made “significant errors” in awarding the contract to a team made up of Northrop and Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space in February.

“With this level of openness and communication” on the Pentagon’s part “competitors will be hard-pressed to say” they didn’t understand the requirements, Northrop spokesman Randy Belote said in an e-mail.

Biotechnology

Sonus will merge with OncoGenex

Sonus Pharmaceuticals, of Bothell, said Wednesday that its shareholders agreed to a merger with OncoGenex Technologies, of Vancouver, B.C.

The new company will be called OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals and will implement a 1-for-18 reverse stock split so shares trade above $4, the minimum price required by the Nasdaq market for an initial listing. The company will trade under the symbol OGXI.

The transaction will be followed by a cost reduction program. The company said in a statement that the program would result in severance costs, but a spokesman for OncoGenex declined to disclose details until the deal was closed at 12:01 a.m. today.

Aviation

FAA reviewing Eclipse 500 jets

Federal aviation officials said Wednesday that they are conducting an unusual 30-day review of the Eclipse 500 very light jets in response to reports of safety problems when the jets were certified for flight in 2006.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it put together a review team on Aug. 11 to look at the jets’ safety and certification, including issues that have been the subject of complaints from aircraft operators involving aircraft trim, flaps, screen blanking and stall speeds.

Eclipse Aviation of Albuquerque, N.M., the aircraft’s manufacturer, said it welcomes the FAA’s review. “Without a doubt, this special review will uncover what we already know — that the Eclipse 500 marks the safest new airplane introduction into service in 20 years,” said Roel Pieper, Eclipse’s CEO.

Pieper replaced the cash-strapped jet manufacturer’s founder, Vern Raburn, as CEO last month. Raburn, one of the early employees of Microsoft, raised at least $1 billion from investors — including Microsoft founder Bill Gates — to start Eclipse in 1998.

Cable

Comcast to slow Internet service

Comcast plans to slow Internet service for heavy users for as long as 20 minutes after regulators ordered the company to devise a new method for managing its Web traffic.

Traffic from targeted customers will be delayed for 10 to 20 minutes regardless of program type, allowing service to other users to keep flowing, said Mitch Bowling, Comcast’s senior vice president and general manager of online services. The slowdowns will occur when Comcast’s network becomes congested, he said.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Aug. 1 found Comcast had improperly blocked peer-to-peer programs such as BitTorrent that are used to share videos and other files.

The commission acted “to protect consumers’ access to the Internet,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said.

Software

Oracle CEO made $84.6M last year

Billionaire Larry Ellison raked in a fiscal 2008 pay package valued at $84.6 million for his work as Oracle’s chief executive, and topped it off with a nearly $544 million windfall from cashing in stock options that he has accumulated during his 31-year reign at the business-software maker.

Oracle’s payments and other awards to Ellison, spelled out in documents filed Wednesday, represented a 38 percent raise from the $61.2 million package that company distributed to its flamboyant leader in the previous year.

Unlike most companies, Oracle operates on a fiscal year ending May 31.

Real estate

Fewer people apply for mortgages

Mortgage-application volume fell last week to its lowest levels in nearly eight years, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday.

The fall in application volume is the latest sign of a struggling housing market. On Tuesday, a Commerce Department report showed construction of homes and apartments fell in July to the lowest level in more than 17 years.

And while fewer new homes are being built, fewer customers are also refinancing existing mortgages. A sharp drop in refinance volume in recent weeks has been the leading driver of declining application volume.

Transportation

Amtrak may not have enough trains

Amtrak faces a new problem around the nation: The passenger-rail service that once struggled to woo riders is now so popular amid soaring gas prices, it fears it soon won’t have enough trains to meet demand.

Already record-high ridership is expected to grow to 50 million riders a year in 10 years, from around 25 million now, meaning Amtrak must double its fleet to meet demand, its president and chief executive officer, Alex Kummant, said Wednesday.

Nationally, 2,750,278 passengers used Amtrak in July, a 14 percent surge from the year before and the highest ridership for a single month in the service’s 37-year history.

“In a way, it’s a good problem to have,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “But we can’t meet demand with the current fleet.”

Banks

Cuomo to focus probe on 3 banks

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will intensify his probe into auction-rate securities by focusing on Bank of America, Goldman Sachs Group and Deutsche Bank AG, a person close to the investigation said Wednesday.

The banks are the three biggest players in the auction-rate securities market that have not already reached a settlement with Cuomo, who is seeking deals on behalf of regulators and state authorities. Five major Wall Street firms including Citigroup and Switzerland’s UBS AG have agreed to $42 billion in settlements.

Online retail

EBay lowers fees for fixed-cost items

EBay lowered fees for listing fixed-cost items by more than 70 percent to attract additional sellers and compete with Amazon.com.

Sellers will pay 35 cents to list multiple quantities of the same item for 30 days, the San Jose, Calif., company said Wednesday. Previously, sellers paid between 35 cents and $4 per item listed for seven days.

Chief Executive Officer John Donahoe’s strategy of removing most upfront fees is designed to boost listings and grab market share from Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer.

Compiled from Seattle Times staff, The Associated Press and Bloomberg News