A small US helicopter maker that lost a major government contract to a European rival is protesting over acquisition rules that may have forced it out of the contest. The move comes three months after the US Border Patrol signed a contract with Eurocopter for 55 EC120 single-engined helicopters.

Michigan-based Enstrom Helicopter has not filed a formal protest, but is mounting a public and legislative challenge against government acquisition policies that required agency officials to disqualify its bid in July 2003, says Enstrom chief executive Jerry Mullins. Enstrom's bid lacked several requirements listed under a "miscellaneous equipment" category, such as night vision goggle compatibility and installed air brakes, which caused the bid to be dismissed, says Mullins.

But Enstrom says its aircraft could perform the three basic missions outlined in the agency's requirements and cost $400,000 less per aircraft than the EC120. Mullins says Enstrom's aircraft could easily be adapted to meet the miscellaneous requirements for significantly less than the cost of buying the contract-compliant EC120.

In such cases, federal acquisition policy should encourage greater competition, and perhaps take into account the advantages of supporting a US supplier against a foreign challenger, says Mullins. Eurocopter plans to perform final assembly and checkout for the Border Patrol EC120 in Columbus, Mississippi, but most manufacturing and design work will be performed overseas.

Enstrom is launching a lobbying blitz in the hope of securing reforms before the border patrol awards a follow-on contract.


Source: Flight International