Beechcraft will protest a $427 million contract award to a Sierra Nevada/Embraer team for a contract awarded by the US Air Force last week to supply light attack aircraft to Afghanistan's military.

The protest filed with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) will put the light air support (LAS) programme back in the legal crosshairs. The same contract was awarded to the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team a year ago, but was "set aside" after the USAF discovered irregularities in the acquisition process.

Now, Beechcraft wants to know why the USAF selected the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano despite the aircraft costing 40% more than a bid based on the AT-6 Texan II.

Bill Boisture, Beechcraft chief executive, says he remains concerned about "significant errors" in the USAF evaluation process, but did not elaborate.

"The air force needs to make the right decision for the nation and our future allies," Boisture says.

Embraer was not immediately available to comment on Beechcraft's decision.

The contract was considered a strategic award for both companies. For Embraer, it represents a rare chance to break in to the supply chain for the US Department of Defense, albeit through a pass-through contract to support Afghan forces. Beechcraft, meanwhile, labeled the AT-6 award "critical" to the company's plan to emerge successfully from bankruptcy protection last month.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) is backing Beechcraft's protest, claiming that the Brazilian-designed aircraft would cause a loss of aerospace jobs in the US.

We should be very concerned whenever U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to create hundreds of jobs in any foreign country,” says IAM president Tom Buffenbarger. “We should be outraged when the loss of those jobs also threatens vital U.S. economic and national security interests.

Source: Flight International