Airbus challenges contract award for Whiting helicopters
MILTON — France-based Airbus Helicopters has challenged the U.S. Navy contract award to Italian-based helicopter manufacturer Leonardo to replace the aging helicopter training fleet at Naval Air Station Whiting Field.
NAS Whiting Field is a primary helicopter training facility for the Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Leonardo TH-119 helicopter, a variant of an existing Leonardo helicopter, is slated to replace NAS Whiting Field’s TH-57A Sea Ranger helicopters. Manufactured by Texas-based Bell Textron, the TH-57A fleet has been in service at NAS Whiting Field for 35 years.
Airbus submitted its H135 helicopter in response to the Navy’s search for a replacement for the TH-57A. According to the company, more than 130 H135 helicopters currently are in use for military training in 12 countries, including Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.
Airbus filed its challenge with the U.S. Government Accountability Office on Feb. 3, just days after the company paid nearly $4 billion in fines in connection to corruption and bribery investigations in its native France, Britain and the United States between 2004 and 2016, according to media reports.
In a statement reported in Aviation International News and elsewhere in the media, Airbus said that while the company respects the Navy’s right to choose the helicopter that best meets its needs, Airbus believes “that certain technical aspects of our proposal were not assessed accurately. ... The H135 is a proven military trainer with more than 355,000 training flight hours logged by 10 U.S. allies around the world.”
The Navy has 30 days to respond to the complaint and explain why it chose Leonardo over Airbus.
The awarding of the contract to Leonardo was announced by the Navy in mid-January. Leonardo, Airbus and Bell Textron submitted proposals for replacing the NAS Whiting Field helicopter fleet.
Under the contract award, Leonardo initially will be paid $176.4 million to provide the Navy with 32 TH-73A helicopters. Over the next four years, the contract includes provisions for the procurement of a total of 130 new helicopters, bringing the possible total contract value for Leonardo to $648.1 million, according to the Navy.
On Friday, Leonardo spokeswoman Margaret Rogalski provided a statement from the company to the Daily News regarding the Airbus challenge to the helicopter contract award.
“Leonardo believes the U.S. Navy executed a thorough and competitively bid procurement process for its TH-73 helicopter program, selecting the best-value Leonardo TH-119,” the statement noted. “We remain committed to the Navy’s vital training mission and program timeline.”