Colorado, Florida come to Embraer’s defense

State lawmakers weigh in on the contentious light plane contract for the Afghan air force as the representatives try to ferry jobs to their respective districts.

Beechcraft has turned to its state lawmakers in a last ditch effort to wrest a $427 million contract away from Embraer and Sierra Nevada to build light air support aircraft for Afghanistan’s infantile air force.

As is often the crux of most of these disputes, the debate has turned to jobs. The Kansas senators and Congressional representatives that have come to Beecraft’s aid have spent less time arguing that Beechcraft makes a better plane and more time arguing about where the 1,400 jobs associated with the program will land.

“When it comes to producing aircraft that will help Americans come home from Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force today concluded that America’s ‘best interest’ now rests on the shoulders of Brazil,” Beechcraft said in a statement in February.

The U.S. is funding the program to build 20 light air support aircraft for the Afghan air force. The U.S. Air Force is overseeing the program. Service officials chose Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano over Beechcraft’s AT-6 in February.

It was the second time the Air Force chose Embraer and Sierra Nevada over Beechcraft. In 2011, when Beechcraft was Hawker Beechraft, the Air Force chose Embraer.  However, the proposal filed by Hawker Beechcraft was upheld because of paperwork errors made by Air Force acquisition leaders.

Beechcraft has again filed a protest following the February decision. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), is reviewing the protest.

Embraer is a Brazilian-based company. Defense analysts have pointed out that Beechcraft’s argument falls flat because Embraer plans to build the planes in Jacksonville, Fla., and Sierra Nevada will build the the avionics package for the planes in Centennial, Colo.

Because of the potential jobs in Florida and Colorado, the lawmakers from those states have jumped into the fray. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Reps. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., and Corrine Brown, D-Fla.,wrote Hagel a letter in support of moving forward with the program.

“We know that you understand the urgency of this situation and we applaud the determination of the Air Force to move forward with this program despite numerous delays,” the lawmakers wrote.

Of course, those delays mean the planes will not arrive into Afghanistan until 2015, which will likely mean the U.S. advisers will not be in place to help teach the Afghans to fly and maintain the plane. The 2011 contract stipulated that the planes arrive in Afghanistan by 2014.

Beechcraft is threatening to tie up the program in court. Company officials have already filed a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims to appeal the U.S. Air Force decision. Beecraft has only recently escaped bankruptcy.

The U.S. Air Force had instituted a Stop Work Order on the program when Beechcraft’s protest was initially filed. Upon review by the Pentagon, the Stop Work Order has been lifted and Beechcraft signed the lease on the Jacksonville plant.

Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan. and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., wrote a letter to Hagel to express their displeasure with the decision to press forward with the program despite GAO officials still reviewing the protest.

“To proceed with a contract that may not stand up before the GAO is a waste of taxpayer dollars and an affront to good governance,” the Kansas lawmakers wrote.