Airbus may be presenting Boeing (NYSE:BA) with its biggest challenge yet. And no, it's not the A380 super-jumbo jet.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Airbus is exploring the possibility of building a new aircraft manufacturing plant in the United States. The European consortium intends to build the plant if it can capture a government contract to manufacture a tanker fleet for the U.S. Air Force. That $23 billion prize initially was awarded to Boeing, but then evidence surfaced that the American firm's dealings with the Air Force hadn't exactly been on the up-and-up. Congress canceled the government's agreement with Boeing last year and plans to open up the deal to bidding again this year. Airbus has clearly shown that it intends to be a serious contender against Boeing this time around.

Airbus' competition with Boeing for the Air Force contract is not in itself a big deal. What's significant is that Airbus is working the U.S. political system as part of its effort. The company's potential to deliver new high-paying jobs to some lucky community clearly has state and local officials standing up and taking notice, as representatives from 35 states took part in an informational session on the new plant. Politicians who think they can take the plant home to their jurisdiction are likely to lobby hard for Airbus in Washington.

If Airbus wins the Air Force contract, it might mark just the beginning of Boeing's trouble. With the European outfit playing on American soil, Boeing would no longer have the edge over Airbus in contract negotiations with the U.S. government as the sole provider of American jobs. How the tanker contract will play out is still too early to call, but this is one situation that warrants close attention.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.