SPARKS, Nev., March 12 (UPI) -- The flap over the U.S. Air Force choosing for a second time a Brazilian aircraft for its Light Air Support program appears unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
The Sierra Nevada Corp., in partnership with Embraer Defense and Security, said they are moving ahead with plans to produce A-20 Super Turcano aircraft in Florida for the LAS program despite the "unfortunate" decision by the losing bidder, Beechcraft Corp., to officially protest the contract award to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
"The A-29 Super Tucano is the right choice for the mission, the warfighter, the U.S. taxpayer, the American workers and our partner nations," SNC and Embraer said in a statement. "Given the strength of our proposal and the thoroughness of the U.S. Air Force's evaluation process, it is unfortunate that Beechcraft is now protesting the Light Air Support contract award once again.
"The need for this aircraft was critical a year ago and more so today. SNC and Embraer are moving forward and preparing to begin operations in Jacksonville."
The LAS program is to supply suitable combat aircraft to the Air Force of Afghanistan. The Air Force last year awarded the contract to SNC and Embraer but re-opened the competition after Hawker Beechcraft protested and filed suit in federal court.
Hawker Beechcraft recently emerged from Chapter 11 Bankruptcy as Beechcraft Corp. It offered the AT-6 trainer aircraft in a combat variant for the program.
"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," Beechcraft Chief Executive Officer Bill Boisture said after the new award announcement.
"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."
SNC and Embraer countered that price was only one factors in the Air Force selection. Mission capability and past performance were also essential to determine "overall best value."
"The A-29 received an exceptional rating on technical capability and low-risk in all other categories," the two companies said. "Only the A-29 Super Tucano is operational and performing light air support missions today. Its capabilities and long track record are fully known."
An added factor in the controversy is jobs. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has said awarding the contract to a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer threatens 1,400 U.S. jobs. But SNC and Embraer sys the opposite would be true.
"The SNC award will support more than 1,400 American jobs, reflecting both the large U.S. supplier base -- more than 100 companies will supply parts and services for the A-29 Super Tucano -- and new jobs that will be created by SNC and Embraer," they said.