In what turned out to be his last days as CEO of Hawker Beechcraft, Bill Boisture cranked up to thunderous his company’s response to the Air Force’s awarding its light air support contract to Sierra Nevada and its partner, Brazilian OEM Embraer.
When the Air Force announced it had picked Embraer’s Super Tucano over Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6 in a competition for what is potentially a $1 billion contract, Boisture was candid: “We were caught completely by surprise when we were excluded from the bidding,” he said, describing the process as “yet another example of the Air Force’s lack of transparency through this competition.”
Hawker Beechcraft protested to the Government Accountability Office but was rebuffed. The company then asked the U.S. Court of Claims to hear its case. The court agreed, and the Air Force put a stop-work order on the process, pending a decision by the court as to whether, as Hawker Beechcraft claims, the selection process was legally flawed. A decision by the court is expected in mid-March.
More recently, Boisture further cranked up the volume, first with an open letter to Hawker Beechcraft employees and colleagues in the business aviation industry.
Listing arguments as much against the Super Tucano as in favor of Hawker Beechcraft’s own AT-6, Boisture urged readers to go to Hawker Beechcraft’s website–www.missionreadyAT-6.com–“and use the already prepared letters to let our leaders know what you want done.”
Less than a week later, Boisture responded to the State of the Union Address by President Obama with a second letter, singling out the President’s claim that “he wants to protect American manufacturing jobs and called for more highly skilled jobs in the U.S. and for more products to be made in America.”
If this is true, wrote Boisture, “then the actions of the U.S. Air Force are in direct conflict with those objectives.” He claimed:
- The AT-6 is the best airplane for the LAS mission and is made in America.
- Awarding this contract to a foreign company jeopardizes 800 jobs in Kansas and Arkansas and more than 600 jobs in 38 other states.
- The U.S. airplane is estimated to be about 25 percent less expensive to acquire and dramatically more cost effective to maintain.
Embraer’s U.S. partner, Sierra Nevada, emphatically refutes the Hawker Beechcraft claims. According to the Sparks, Nev.-based electronics provider, Embraer will build a plant in Florida where it will hire 50 skilled U.S. workers to assemble the Super Tucano. The company also notes that the work will support another 1,200 people employed by 71 direct and indirect vendors and suppliers in 21 states in the U.S. In addition, 88 percent of the firms providing components for the Super Tucano are in compliance with the “Buy America Act,” Sierra Nevada claims.
One source at Sierra Nevada questioned Hawker Beechcraft’s own loyalty to the U.S. market, asking how much of the labor going into the AT-6 would actually be done at the company’s Mexico facilities by Mexican workers. By contrast, she said, “If the contract grows as expected, Embraer might actually import the entire Super Tucano [assembly process] to the U.S.”
Sierra Nevada also claims that the Super Tucano is battle proven by air forces of six nations over the last eight years and has accumulated 18,000 total hours without a single combat loss.
In his appeal to the Obama administration, Boisture nevertheless emphasized a need to keep the contract in the U.S. The President, said Boisture, spoke of rewarding innovation and hard work, as well as maintaining a strong manufacturing base and military infrastructure. “Yet the administration’s decision to outsource this contract to a foreign company defeats those goals,” he concluded.