WICHITA — The U.S. Air Force has temporarily halted work on a light-air support contract awarded last week to Hawker Beechcraft’s competitor Sierra Nevada Corp.
The stop-work order was issued Wednesday because of Hawker Beechcraft’s pending litigation before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Air Force said.
Hawker Beechcraft filed the suit last week after the company learned that the Government Accountability Office had dismissed its protest questioning its exclusion from the competition.
Sierra Nevada, based in Nevada, teamed with Brazil-based Embraer for the contract under which Embraer will supply its single-engine Super Tucano turboprop to the Air Force.
The Air Force awarded the $355 million contract Dec. 22.
The planes will be used for advanced flight training, surveillance, air interdiction and close air support, the Air Force said. The contract is also for training, maintenance and other support.
“We think we were wrongfully excluded from the competition,” Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture said last week. “We don’t understand the basis for the exclusion, and frankly, we think we’ve got the best airplane.
“So we’re going to take every avenue available to us to make sure our product is fully evaluated and recognized for what it is. … There are several issues here that just, frankly, don’t make sense.”
In a statement, the Air Force on Wednesday called the competition and source selection evaluation “fair, open and transparent.”
“The Air Force is confident in the merits of its contract award decision and anticipates that the litigation will be quickly resolved,” the statement said.
For the past year, Hawker Beechcraft has competed against Embraer and Sierra Nevada for a contract to supply 35 aircraft to the Air Force. That number could grow to 55 and be worth up to $950 million. Deliveries were scheduled to begin in 2013, with the initial round of deliveries to be completed by April 30, 2014.
Hawker Beechcraft offered the Air Force its AT-6, adapted from the company’s T-6 trainer.
The company has said that winning the contract would keep its T-6 production line of trainers running after 2015, when final deliveries to the U.S. Navy are scheduled. The T-6 is a single-engine, two-seat turboprop used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy for pilot training. About 740 T-6 airplanes are in service.
A Hawker Beechcraft win of the contract would preserve 1,400 U.S. jobs at 181 companies in 39 states, the company said. That includes 800 at Hawker Beechcraft, Boisture has said.
In November, the Air Force informed Hawker Beechcraft that it had been excluded from the competition in what is called a “pre-award exclusion.” The company has been trying to learn the reason for the action, and filed an inquiry with the GAO for a review of the exclusion and a protest.
In dismissing Hawker Beechcraft’s protest, the Air Force said the company missed a three-day deadline to file a request for a debriefing and missed a 10-day deadline to file a protest, the GAO’s report said.
Sierra Nevada and Embraer have said that Brazil’s Super Tucano will be assembled at a plant Embraer will build in Jacksonville, Fla., for the work.