Beechcraft again will challenge the U.S. Air Force’s decision to award the Light Air Support (LAS) contract to Embraer and Sierra Nevada Corp., the company announced Friday.
The Air Force awarded the contract to supply Afghanistan with 20 planes on Feb. 27.
“Following our debrief with the Air Force earlier this week, we are very perplexed by this decision,” Bill Boisture, CEO of Beechcraft, wrote in a statement. “Our belief that we have the best aircraft was confirmed by the Air Force rating our aircraft ‘exceptional’ and the fact that we are the lower cost solution was confirmed by the USAF’s public award announcement.”
This is the second time in a year that the Air Force decided to award the contract to the SNC/Embraer pairing, who put forth their A-29 Super Tucano, and the second time that Beechcraft has challenged the decision.
The Air Force selected the plane early last year but was forced to recompete the program after Hawker Beechcraft lodged a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and filed a lawsuit in federal court.
The Air Force relaunched the competition last April, although the Super Tucano and the AT-6 were the only competitors. The relaunching of the contract nullified the lawsuit from Hawker.
“We simply don’t understand how the Air Force can justify spending over 40 percent more — over $125 million more — for what we consider to be less capable aircraft,” said Boisture in his Friday statement. “Given our experience of last year and our continued strong concern that there are again significant errors in the process and evaluation in this competition, we are left with no recourse other than to file a protest with the GAO. The Air Force needs to make the right decision for the nation and our future allies.”
Beechcraft’s announcement was followed shortly by a statement of support from The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).
“I don’t know why the U.S. government is bending over backwards to accommodate Brazil in the midst of sequestration, but this is a real blow to American workers and taxpayers,” IAM President Tom Buffenbarger wrote in the statement. “The claim by Embraer that most of their plane would be ‘built in the USA’ adds insult to the injury of the 1,400 jobs that will be destroyed here at home.”
The Brazil-based Embraer has said they plan to fulfill the LAS contract with planes manufactured in a new plant located in Jacksonville, Fla. Embraer estimates the new facility will support 100 suppliers across 20 states and result in roughly 1,400 American jobs.
“This source selection followed termination of a similar award in December of 2011, after a Beechcraft protest and discovery of deficiencies in the process and documentation that could not confirm the adequacy of the previous decision in favor of SNC,” Ed Gulick, USAF spokesman, wrote in a statement. “The Air Force restarted the LAS competition in May 2012, executing the source selection with a new evaluation team, internal and external advisers and a new source selection authority. We are confident that this decision is well supported and that the offerors’ proposals were fully and fairly evaluated consistent with the evaluation criteria in the solicitation.”
Embraer and SNC released a joint statement Friday evening.
“In evaluating the competitors, the U.S. Air Force looked at three criteria, in priority order: mission capability, past performance and pricing in order to determine overall best value,” read the statement.
“The A-29 received an exceptional rating on technical capability and low-risk in all other categories. Only the A-29 Super Tucano is operational and performing light air support missions today. Its capabilities and long track record are fully known and demonstrated. The past performances of SNC and Embraer are equally strong and proven. Based on these factors we are confident the Air Force selected the A-29 as the lowest risk solution for the U.S. and its partner nations and overall best value.
We look forward to another rapid Government Accounting Office decision on Beechcraft’s protest. “
During the period the contract was recompeted, Hawker Beechcraft went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company, now rebranded with just the Beechcraft name, announced its restructuring in mid-February.
At the time, Boisture praised the USAF for how it was handling the competition. The process “proceeded with a great deal of urgency, and yet care. Our interactions with the Air Force on this round of competition have been very professional.”
“I guess it’s the triumph of hope over experience,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, said about the protest. “I don’t really know what they’re hoping to accomplish.”
“I’m just not sure what the grounds [for protest] would be,” he added. “The AT-6 is good, but the Super Tucano is heavier and more capable, and that’s obviously a key part of the selection criteria.”
“If Beechcraft is just waiting for political pressure to weigh in, the delay could just be a few months,” Aboulafia said about the protest. “But given the way things are going in terms of Afghan military requirement, it might scuttle the whole deal if requirements change or if the picture changes.”
A GAO official confirmed that the agency received the official challenge Friday, meaning GAO must issue a ruling 100 calendar days from today – on June 7th, if not sooner. During the protest, an automatic stay is put in place on the contract, although that can be overridden if it is decided the contract fulfills the best interests of the U.S.