MD Helicopters, a Mesabased producer of light helicopters, has filed an official protest with the U.S. Army over the awarding of a $1.5 billion contract for a next-generation utility helicopter to a rival bidder.
MDHI, which is located at Falcon Field, was one of four companies competing for the work. The winning bid was submitted by American Eurocopter, a unit of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., a French-German consortium.
The Army announced on June 30 that it planned to order 322 of Eurocopter’s UH-145 aircraft for light troop transport and other utility duties, replacing some machines that date back to the Vietnam War era.
Although the company is foreign-owned, American Eurocopter said the aircraft would be built at a plant in Mississippi.
MDHI had proposed a modified version of its twin-engine Explorer for the Army’s use and would have assembled the aircraft in Mesa. If the local company had won, it would have provided a big boost to East Valley helicopter production and employment.
In a statement released last week, MDHI acting Chief Executive Lynn Tilton blasted the Army’s action as an”outrageous decision completely at odds with supporting American industry . . . The United States is struggling to stay competitive with its global neighbors, and our own taxpayer money is being poured into the coffers of foreign companies when that money could be going to rebuild this industry in our country.”
In an interview following the announcement, Tilton said MD’s bid may have been hurt by problems the company had under its previous ownership by RDM, a Dutch defense contractor. The company, which is a legacy of the former McDonnell Douglas Corp., was bought last year by Patriarch Partners LLC, a $5 billion New York-based private investment firm founded by Tilton. Patriarch has injected capital into the business and ramped up production of the company’s light helicopters in a comeback effort.
Tilton said the Army had not fully considered the company’s turnaround.
“There is absolutely no question in my mind that the MDHI bid offered the best overall product and value,” she said.
Kimberly Henry, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army’s Aviation and Missile Command in Alabama, declined to comment on the specifics of MDHI’s complaint, saying “we need to let this play out.”
She said neither of the other two losing bidders, Bell Helicopter or AgustaWestland, has filed a protest so far.
A spokesman for EADS North America could not be reached Monday.
Under the Army’s contract procedures, protests are reviewed by a designated official who ranks above the contracting officers and who was not involved in the decision. The policy of the service is to decide the issue within 35 days, during which activity on the contract is suspended.