A $355 million contract award by the US Air Force to prime contractor Sierra Nevada for 20 Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucanos on 30 December faces legal and political challenges from ousted bidder Hawker Beechcraft.

Kansas-based Beechcraft has already launched the process of filing an appeal in the US Court of Federal Claims. Meanwhile, two Kansas representatives in the US Congress have added their support to stop the award to Beechcraft's Brazilian competitor.

"It is simply wrong from the Obama Administration to hire a Brazilian company to handle national security when we have a qualified and competent American company that can do the job," Representative Tim Huelskamp said.

"I will continue to fight for answers on this matter," added Representative Mike Pompeo, who also said the decision to select a Brazilian aircraft was "troubling".

The USAF notified Beechcraft that its AT-6 Texan II had been eliminated from the light air support (LAS) aircraft competition after failing to meet unspecified requirements by certified letter on 4 November.

Beechcraft had an opportunity to request a debrief and file a protest but the unexpected letter was apparently misplaced in the company's internal mail delivery system. Company officials told the US Government Accountability Office they did not discover the USAF's letter until 11 days after its delivery.

Both companies competed aggressively for the LAS contract. The initial 20 aircraft on order will be delivered to the Afghan air force, while another 15 could be acquired as trainers for the USAF. Dozens more light fighters could subsequently be ordered for other partner nations. The USAF originally estimated the maximum value of the programme could rise to almost $1 billion.

For Embraer, the contract award is its first major victory in the US defence market since 2004, when the ERJ-145 regional jet was selected by the army as a surveillance aircraft. However, that contract was cancelled in 2006.

"We are committed to pursuing our US investment strategy and to delivering the A-29 Super Tucano on schedule and within budget," said Luiz Carlos Aguiar, chief executive officer of Embraer Defense and Security.

Embraer and Sierra Nevada plan to assemble the aircraft at a new factory in Jacksonville, Florida. Their contract also covers the supply of associated ground training devices and support equipment.

Source: Flight International