March 11, 2013
Beechcraft has once again opted to protest its loss of the U.S. Air Force Light Air Support contract to a Sierra Nevada/Embraer team.
The LAS contract is worth up to $950 million. Once the protest is filed with the Government Accountability Office, auditors have up to 100 days to review the case and make a determination.
“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,” says CEO Bill Boisture, adding that he was “perplexed” by the service’s decision.
“We simply don’t understand how the Air Force can justify spending over 40% more — over $125 million more — for what we consider to be less-capable aircraft,” he said.
Beechcraft only recently emerged from bankruptcy under its previous flag, Hawker Beechcraft; a win would be a major boon for the rebranded company.
Last year, the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team won the original LAS competition, which was followed by a protest and lawsuit from Beechcraft. The Air Force opted to reissue a request for proposals and start a new competition, which led to the Feb. 27 selection of the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team once again.
The recompeted contract includes an initial order of 20 A-29-based aircraft for the Afghan air force worth $427 million; other nations could later be added to the contract for work worth nearly $1 billion. The rivals were debriefed on the decision by the Air Force March 4, according to Ed Gulick, a service spokesman.
The service has not yet opted whether to follow standard procedure and issue a stop-work order to Sierra Nevada pending the Government Accountability Office’s review of Beechcraft’s claims. It is possible that the service could waive the requirement and claim operational urgency to continue the work; the aircraft are due in Afghanistan starting early next year. Their arrival is tied to the ability of U.S. forces to pull out of Afghanistan in concert with White House plans.
In its announcement, Beechcraft cites the lower price of its bid, the LAS program’s tattered history (including last-year’s protest and subsequent lawsuit) and concern over U.S.-based jobs. “An estimated 1,400 jobs in Kansas and other states are in jeopardy as a result of the Air Force decision,” company officials say.