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Beechcraft Sues U.S. to Halt Plane Deal for Afghan Army

March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Beechcraft Corp. sued the U.S. Defense Department to halt a contract won by competitors to provide planes to the Afghan military, claiming it was a lower bidder on the deal that ultimately could be worth $950 million.

The suit, filed today in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims seeks an order to block the successful bidder, closely held Sierra Nevada Corp., from working on the contract while Beechcraft pursues a bid protest with the Government Accountability Office. Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil-based Embraer SA is a subcontractor on the order of light attack planes.

“Beechcraft is not requesting a determination regarding the underlying merits of its GAO protest by this court and continues to pursue its challenges to the Air Force’s award of the contract before the GAO,” the company said in the complaint.

Beechcraft, in a statement announcing the complaint, said it expects a GAO ruling on its protest of the procurement within 90 days.

“Despite the fact that Beechcraft filed for injunctive relief today, SNC and Embraer will continue to move forward in putting Americans to work and getting the LAS aircraft into the hands of our warfighters and partners on the ground in Afghanistan,” Taco Gilbert, a Sierra Nevada vice president, said in an e-mailed statement.

Acquisition Process

The Air Force is confident of the acquisition process used for the planes and Sierra Nevada will continue to work on the contract “pending any further direction from the court,” Charles Gulick, an Air Force spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

The suit follows an Air Force decision to override an automatic stop-work order triggered by Beechcraft’s March 8 protest to the GAO.

It was the second time that closely held Beechcraft had lodged a GAO protest over the award, which has been delayed for more than a year.

The Air Force decided to keep the work going because the turboprop planes on order are needed to bolster Afghanistan’s military as the U.S. withdraws troops, according to a March 15 letter from an Air Force assistant secretary to the GAO.

President Barack Obama has promised to withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Maintenance Support

Sierra Nevada, based in Sparks, Nevada, on Feb. 27 won the $427 million contract for an initial order of 20 light-attack planes, maintenance support and training. The A-29 Super Tucano aircraft will be built by Embraer.

The contract is valued at as much at $950 million over its lifetime.

The contract was originally awarded to Sierra Nevada in December 2011. The Pentagon canceled the award about two months later after Wichita, Kansas-based Beechcraft, formerly Hawker Beechcraft Corp., sued the military over its exclusion. In February, Beechcraft lost for the second time.

In its suit, Beechcraft said the Pentagon already has waited more than three years for the planes and “it is unreasonable for the Air Force to conclude, as it has here, that it cannot wait another 89 days for the GAO to issue a decision on the GAO protest.”

Beechcraft said the Air Force canceled the first award because of “a flawed evaluation that failed to comply with the terms of the solicitation and that reflected disparate treatment in favor of SNC.”

In the second round of procurement, Beechcraft claimed that its bid was lower than SNC’s, though the amount of the disparity was redacted along with other information in the version of the complaint made public.

The case is Beechcraft Defense Company LLC v. U.S., 13-cv-00202, U.S. Court of Federal Claims (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Zajac in Washington at azajac@bloomberg.net Danielle Ivory in Washington at divory@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net; Stephanie Stoughton at sstoughton@bloomberg.net

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