Pompeo wants assurances that Beechcraft has fair shot at future Air Force contracts

04/02/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:16 AM

While a high-stakes light air support contract to Sierra Nevada and Embraer is under review, Rep. Mike Pompeo wants to make sure Beechcraft will be able to compete for follow-on contracts.

Last month, Wichita aircraft manufacturer Beechcraft filed a lawsuit to contest the Air Force’s decision to award a light air support contract to Sierra Nevada for Embraer’s Super Tucano aircraft.

It also filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office over the deal, which has been legally challenged and delayed repeatedly over a three-year period.

Beechcraft offered the Air Force the AT-6, an attack version of its T-6 primary trainer.

The contract for 20 planes for use in Afghanistan is worth more than $427 million. It could be worth as much as $1 billion, depending on future orders.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with the Air Force about why it selected the “more expensive, less capable” Super Tucano, Pompeo said Monday during an interview at The Eagle.

The Air Force told Pompeo it wasn’t convinced Beechcraft could certify the AT-6 in a timely fashion, he said.

The planes are to supply the Afghan Air Force with fixed-wing light attack capability. The Air Force is in a hurry to get the planes to Afghanistan as the U.S. withdraws its forces from the country over the next 14 months.

“I’m puzzled they thought that Beechcraft couldn’t get through the certification process,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo wants to ensure that follow-on contracts without the same tight time constraints to supply other U.S. partner countries under the Building Partnership Capacity Program will be put to a full rebidding process.

“We want to make sure this isn’t a pattern,” Pompeo said.

The light air support contract establishes a program of record for all 27 allied nations under the Building Partnership Capacity program, the Kansas congressional delegation has said.

The intention is to share capacities, expertise, maintenance and parts supplies with allies.

Awarding the contract to a foreign-based company risks building “true partnership capabilities,” the delegation argues.

Embraer has said the planes will be built at its new plant in Jacksonville, Fla., and will create U.S. jobs.

Pompeo doubts Embraer will be able to open the plant and build the planes in time to meet the Air Force’s deadline.

“They’re not going to build this airplane in Florida,” Pompeo said. “Fourteen months. … Are you kidding me?”

Instead, he predicts Embraer will fly an almost-completed plane from Brazil to Jacksonville for completion.

Beechcraft and Sierra Nevada have been battling for the light air support contract for nearly three years, including legal challenges.

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott joined with officials of Sierra Nevada and Embraer to officially open the 40,000-square-foot facility at Jacksonville’s airport. Officials said they didn’t expect work on planes to begin, though, until later this year.

The Air Force canceled the contract to Sierra Nevada and Embraer in March 2012 after Beechcraft claimed it had wrongly been excluded from the bidding process.

An Air Force investigation found that the bidding process had been flawed and that bias existed toward Embraer and Sierra Nevada. That led to the cancellation and a restart of the competition.

Sierra Nevada then contended that the revised bid proposal was tilted in favor of then-Hawker Beechcraft.

The new bidding process proceeded despite Sierra Nevada’s claim in court, and the company was selected for the project.

Boeing’s departure

Pompeo also noted that Boeing was proceeding with the closing of its Wichita facilities, although the company is struggling to move Air Force One maintenance from Wichita to San Antonio.

“They didn’t get very many people to move to San Antonio,” Pompeo said.

He’s concerned about the ability to “reload the facility” with other work from other companies while it’s unclear when all the Boeing work will move.

Still, the office facilities are being vacated as planned.

And when it comes to Air Force One work, “I’m convinced they will ultimately get it transitioned,” Pompeo said.

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