Air Force overrides Beechcraft LAS protest

March 18, 2013 at 1:07 PM
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WICHITA, Kan., March 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force has apparently rejected Beechcraft's latest protest of the LAS program award and is sticking with Brazil's Embraer.

"When it comes to producing aircraft that will help Americans come home from Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force today concluded that America's 'best interest' now rests on the shoulders of Brazil," Beechcraft Corp. said. "This decision is very misguided. It will lead to the loss of American jobs and substantially higher costs to American taxpayers."

The LAS program is to provide Afghanistan's air force with an initial 20 light support combat aircraft. The contract was originally given to a partnership between Embraer and the Sierra Nevada Corp. for the A-26 Super Tucano, a turboprop combat aircraft in use by a number of militaries.

The aircraft would be manufactured in Florida and the partner companies highlighted the creation of jobs in the United States as a result of that.

Beechcraft offered its T-6 trainer, which would be made in a combat variant.

When the contract went to the Embraer-SNC partnership, Beechcraft launched an official protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, citing "bias" in the selection process since Beechcraft was the lowest bidder.

As a result, the U.S. Air Force reopened the competition but decided on the Brazilian aircraft and, with administration backing, rejected the new official protest.

"By invoking this override procedure to outsource American defense jobs, the definitions of national security and the protection of the U.S. aerospace industrial base have been turned upside down," Beechcraft said.

"Moreover, the Air Force's decision to bypass the normal GAO review process deprives the American taxpayer of transparent answers to legitimate and well-documented questions to what has been a very opaque LAS acquisition.

"The correct decision would be to protect our national security interest by selecting the lower cost, American-made aircraft that the air force rated 'Exceptional' and one that is built around an airframe, weapons and systems that are familiar to and under the control of, the United States military."

Beechcraft said it will review its options to reverse the "misguided" Air Force decision.

Beechcraft's original protest delayed the program by more than a year and the Air Force -- with U.S. combat forces leaving Afghanistan at the end of next year -- apparently decided further delays in getting the aircraft to Afghan forces was unacceptable.

In a related development, Embraer Aircraft Holding Inc. on Friday said it has signed a 10-year lease on a 40,000-square-foot hangar in Jacksonville, where the A-29s will be assembled.

Preparation of the facility for the work is under way.

The facility will perform pre-equipping, mechanical assembly, structural assembly, systems installation and testing, and flight testing of the A-29 aircraft.

"We have been looking forward to the day that we can officially establish our presence in Jacksonville and we are ready to get to work," said Gary Spulak, president of Embraer Aircraft Holding Inc. "This important step is the first of many that will solidify the new partnership we have created between Embraer and the Jacksonville community."

Embraer has had its U.S. headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for more than 30 years and has recently expanded operations in the state by opening new production and customer care facilities.

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