Beechcraft and Embraer are engaged in a public relations battle over the Air Force's choice of Embraer's Super Tucano for a $427 million contract to provide a light air support (LAS) platform. The Air Force made its selection on Feb. 27 and within a week Beechcraft announced it would formally protest the award, suggesting there might be irregularities in the process and noting the Super Tucano will cost significantly more than the AT-6 it offered. Within hours, Embraer and its primary contractor on the project, Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), issued a joint statement defending their successful bid and expressing disappointment that Beechcraft is challenging the choice of the Super Tucano a second time. The Embraer/SNC consortium won 2011 competition for the contract, which then-Hawker Beechcraft successfully challenged and overturned. The earlier challenge uncovered irregularities in the consideration of the bids by the Air Force, and Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture said in a statement that he doesn't think the second bid was handled properly either, particularly since the Embraer aircraft will cost significantly more than the AT-6. "Given our experience of last year and our continued strong concern that there are again significant errors in the process and evaluation in this competition, we are left with no recourse other than to file a protest with the GAO," he said.
Boisture said the Super Tucano will cost the Air Force 40 percent more than the AT-6 even though he said the Air Force rated the Beechcraft entry "exceptional." "We simply don't understand how the Air Force can justify spending over 40 percent more - over $125 million more - for what we consider to be less capable aircraft," Boisture said. Embraer and SNC didn't dispute Boisture's math but they did say the Air Force made its choice based on mission capability, past performance and price in that order. "The U. S. Air Force determined that the price they are paying for the superior A-29 aircraft was part of the 'overall best value,'" the bid winners said in their statement. The combatants did agree on one point. Both are hoping for a quick decision by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Beechcraft's protest.