A US Army EADS Eurocopter North America UH-72A Lakota (06-72001) from the USAAAD (Fort Irwin, California) blazes over the desert.
Can the U.S. Army contract Airbus Helicopters to deliver UH-72 Lakotas without holding an open competition? That question still had not been fully answered Jan. 4 when the military released a sources sought document, outlining the Army’s interest in procuring up to 35 “new FAA certified EC-145 aircraft to supplement the Army's existing fleet of aircraft.” Due to a 2016 ruling by the Court of Federal Claims, the Army would have to either hold an open competition or submit another Justification and Acquisition (J&A) document to get the aircraft it desired. But as of Tuesday, that is no longer necessary.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has overturned that 2016 decision. In the case of AgustaWestland North America, Inc. v. Airbus Helicopters Inc., with the U.S. as defendant-appellant, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and vacated the preliminary injunction.
“We hope that the appellate court’s ruling today will finally end a two-year saga of one contractor attempting to wrestle business from a customer by holding Army readiness hostage,” Airbus said. “This ruling also removes the threat that Leonardo has held over the heads of our American workers in Mississippi — more than 40% of whom are U.S. military veterans — as it has tied up Army procurement long enough to nearly shut down our American production line.”
The manufacturer that has since become Leonardo challenged the Army’s ability to sole-source more UH-72As in 2014. Leonardo had lost out on the original 2006 contract to provide helicopters to the Army. The 2016 decision was a short-lived victory.
“The Court of Federal Claims found that the justifications for the sole-source award to Airbus, set forth in the J&A, were insufficient,” the new court document states. “We conclude, however, that the agency provided a coherent and reasonable explanation of its exercise of discretion, and therefore the justifications for the sole-source award are not arbitrary and capricious.”
With this new ruling, the Army can move forward with the procurement process and have the ability to select the EC-145, of which the Lakota is a variant.
“This wasteful lawsuit not only damaged the Army’s readiness by limiting its ability to train new pilots, but threatened to cost the taxpayers countless millions by attempting to force the Army to introduce a brand new aircraft into its inventory,” Airbus said. “Had Leonardo succeeded, it would have been a massively expensive step backward from the Army’s cost-saving Aviation Restructure Initiative.
“No one could ever argue that it was in the best interests of Army aviators or the taxpaying public to force the Army to train its pilots with a fleet made up of 90% Lakotas and 10% of something else,” Airbus continued.