Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6 still seems like the natural choice to meet the Air Force’s need for new light attack aircraft, a contract potentially worth nearly $1 billion and 800 Wichita jobs. But if not, the company deserves to know exactly why not.
Instead, the Air Force seems determined to deny Hawker Beechcraft an answer for why its bid was the subject of a “pre-award exclusion” in November – a decision that left Brazil-based Embraer as the sole contender for the initial contract to supply 35 planes.
After learning that the Government Accountability Office had dismissed Hawker Beechcraft’s initial protest, the company filed suit Tuesday with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, calling the exclusion “arbitrary and capricious” and seeking to delay the contract award.
Hard as it is to welcome legal action against the federal government in a time of spiraling budget deficits, Hawker Beechcraft has enough at stake – and a strong enough case to make – to justify pressing the issue.
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As company CEO Bill Boisture said: “We don’t understand the basis for the exclusion, and frankly, we think we’ve got the best airplane.”
According to Hawker Beechcraft officials:
• The company and its partners have invested more than $100 million and two years in the bid, working with the Air Force to develop parameters for the competition.
• Through a multiyear program led by the Air National Guard, the AT-6 was evaluated and proved capable.
• The AT-6 is smaller and lighter than Embraer’s Super Tucano, and the AT-6’s maintenance and training systems and parts supply chain are in place.
• A win for Hawker Beechcraft would mean 1,400 U.S. jobs, compared with an estimated 50 to assemble the Super Tucano in Jacksonville, Fla.
• Wichita-based Beechcraft has built more than 14,500 aircraft certified to military specifications over the past seven decades.
Plus, Embraer is not only based in Brazil but partially owned by the government. And as former congressman Todd Tiahrt argued in The Eagle last spring, “outsourcing American national security makes our troops vulnerable and our country less safe.”
Both the Air Force and the GAO have noted only that the Air Force found Hawker Beechcraft’s bid “technically unacceptable,” saying it would result in an “unacceptable mission capability risk.”
That’s not an explanation – not for the company, its workforce or the American taxpayer, or for the airmen who’ll use and rely on the new aircraft.
Wichita should cheer on Hawker Beechcraft’s legal action, as the Kansas delegation in Washington, D.C., does whatever it can to investigate or, even better, undo the exclusion and get the company back in the running.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman