Homeland Security request could spur order for more Beechcraft King Air planes

07/11/2014 9:55 AM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

The Department of Homeland Security is looking to add up to 40 surveillance aircraft to boost protection of the nation’s borders, according to a request for information.

That will likely mean more business for Textron Aviation’s Beechcraft.

In 2009, the federal agency introduced what it calls “multirole enforcement aircraft” or MEA, and so far it has ordered 10 heavily modified Beechcraft King Air 350s to fill the mission.

The planes are assembled in Wichita.

The aircraft are for the Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine.

“When you’re equipping a fleet, it’s cheaper to buy a single type of aircraft,” said Lexington Institute chief operating officer and defense analyst Loren Thompson. “That way ordering spare parts and conducting maintenance is easier.”

The Customs and Border Protection Office already knows the King Air aircraft.

“They would tend to favor buying more of them,” Thompson said.

Of the 10 King Airs ordered, seven are in operation in San Diego, Calif., and Jacksonville, Fla. Another is to be delivered this year with two more deliveries in 2015, according to the request for information, which is a business process that typically allows a potential buyer to compare suppliers.

“Beechcraft and Cessna have been trusted partners of the U.S. government for many years, providing high technology aircraft for maritime and over-land surveillance missions,” said Dan Keacy, Textron Aviation vice president of special missions aircraft. “The Textron Aviation companies look forward to providing aircraft platforms and solutions to satisfy future homeland security needs.”

The request for information comes as a thousands of unaccompanied children from South and Central America have been coming to the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border. That means there’s increased urgency to put more resources at the nation’s borders, Thompson said.

“The (agency) has a growing need to support law enforcement and emergency response operations with sensor-equipped surveillance aircraft capable of collecting, recording and transmitting real-time imagery to tactical and strategic command and control coordination centers,” the request for information said.

In support of that need, the Customs and Border Protection Office wants to buy aircraft outfitted with sensors to support surveillance operations “in regions where terrain, weather and distance pose significant obstacles to border security operations between ports,” it said.

The request is in support of a follow-on contract to help the agency meet its requirement for up to 50 of the planes, the request said.

According to the agency’s documents, the request calls for a plane whose sensors are able to detect a plane the size of a Cessna 172 from 17 miles away, a 30-foot boat from 29 miles away and a person from seven miles away. It must be able to “classify the target” at a distance of 2 miles, the request said.

It also must have the capability to hold two pilots and four team members.

The airplane must be new, commercially available, fully certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, pressurized, be multi-engine turboprop or turbofan, and modified with sensors for air-to-sea detection and monitoring, air-to-air tracking and air-to-ground surveillance, the request said.

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