Though some foreign buyers expressed concern during bankruptcy, Boisture says confidence is returning. The company's financial woes did not figure in the Air Force's decision, he adds, noting Beechcraft has met its T-6 commitments, with seven of eight deliveries in 2013 defect-free.
But, having just emerged from bankruptcy, Boisture is loathe to be seen accepting such an important loss without a fight, especially when the Air Force has had major procurement missteps in recent years. In the first LAS competition, the Air Force acknowledged poor documentation, which led to its willingness to solicit new bids.
Beechcraft's protest strategy also speaks to its home base. Kansas lawmakers are backing the company and demanding an explanation from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; they say Beechcraft's bid was up to 30% less expensive.
They have also pushed a “Made In the USA” argument, saying the loss of LAS could eliminate 1,400 U.S. jobs, all associated with winding down the T-6 line. But Embraer is firing back, citing a plan to hire at least 800 people and noting that they have established three new service centers on U.S. soil in seven years.
The Air Force's concern about the AT-6's eligibility for certification is unfounded, according to U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both (R-Kan.), and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R), whose district includes Wichita.
Beechcraft, which plans to continue AT-6 development, says the aircraft is ready for certification.
Referring to the Air Force's selection of the Super Tucano as “perplexing,” Boisture says the company is poised to adjust to the results of the GAO review. “I have a business disagreement,” he says, but “what happens, happens . . . . Would a negative outcome mean the beginning of the end of the defense business? It's absolutely not over,” he says.
David Berteau, senior vice president and director of the CSIS International Security Program, says that the Beechcraft protest is “uncharted territory” because so many factors are at play, not just whether the Air Force followed procurement rules. The urgency of the Afghanistan mission is also important. The Air Force lifting the stop-work order “is a powerful indication of how serious the national security impact would be of a delay,” he says. “The clock is ticking on Afghanistan.” Another issue is whether the fate of a U.S. aerospace company in dire straits should be considered. Federal procurement rules prevent that from being a factor. But, U.S. politicians may balk. “I don't think we—the government—have a framework for looking at this through all those prisms simultaneously,” Berteau says.