Embraer to rebid on Air Force's Afghan planes

Reuters News
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Posted: May 08, 2012 11:58 PM
Embraer to rebid on Air Force's Afghan planes

By Andrea Shalal-Esa and Brad Haynes

WASHINGTON/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Aircraft maker Embraer said on Tuesday it is pressing ahead with a new bid for a U.S. Air Force contract to supply 20 light air support planes to Afghanistan, despite concerns that the results of a prior competition would not be considered.

Rival Hawker Beechcraft said it was too soon to make substantive comments on final rules for the new bidding process, but the privately held manufacturer criticized the decision to stick with "antiquated" ejection seat requirements.

The Air Force is redoing the competition after a lawsuit filed by Hawker, which lost an initial contract award valued at $355 million to privately held Sierra Nevada and Brazilian partner Embraer. The Air Force issued an amended request for proposals on Friday that appeared little changed from a draft that had drawn criticism from Sierra Nevada.

Embraer's defense chief Luiz Carlos Aguiar said on Tuesday the planemaker was pressing ahead with a second bid after the original contract was scrapped due to a bureaucratic mistake.

"We're going to compete. We are already working on the bid," Aguiar said in a telephone interview. "If the process is conducted fairly and transparently with the same requirements ... we should win as we did in the first round."

Aguiar said he was disappointed that the restarted competition would not include head-to-head test flights or consider the results of the previous so-called "fly-off".

But he said the process would now include other ways to consider the combat experience of Embraer's turboprop Super Tucano, which has been ordered by nine air forces in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Hawker did not mention plans for the next round of bidding.

"We are profoundly disappointed to see ... that the United States Air Force continues to permit antiquated pilot accommodation standards for ejection seat equipped aircraft which can place both (Air Force) and partner nation pilots at unnecessary and higher risk," Hawker said.

Hawker said every aircraft bought by the Air Force should meet those modern safety standards.

Aguiar said Embraer and Hawker use the same supplier for their ejections seats and so should be equally prepared to meet any standards on that front.

"Hawker is attempting to create an issue where none exists," agreed Taco Gilbert, vice president of business development for Sierra Nevada's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business. He said the ejection seat on the Super Tucano had been validated through over 150,000 operational hours on the plane.

The Air Force on Friday said it hoped to pick a new winner in early 2013, with the first aircraft to be delivered to Afghanistan in third quarter of 2014.

The companies must submit their new proposals by June 4.

The U.S. Air Force is handling the largely American-funded purchase of the light attack planes, which will be supplied to Afghanistan's fledging air force. Doubts are mounting about the overall readiness of the Afghan military to take charge of security in the country, which suffered heavy, coordinated insurgent attacks on Sunday.

The case is being closely watched in Brazil, where officials were still smarting from the cancellation of an earlier contract with Lockheed Martin Corp for a reconnaissance plane based on Embraer's ERJ-145 regional jet.

(Editing by Gary Hill and Bob Burgdorfer)