Kansas company's lawsuit puts wrench in plans for plane assembly in Jacksonville

By David Bauerlein
The Florida Times-Union.
January 5, 2012

A high-stakes legal battle that temporarily halted an Air Force contract generating 50 aircraft assembly jobs in Jacksonville will ground the contract for at least two months until a judge rules.

An order issued Thursday by federal Judge George W. Miller said he will rule “promptly as possible” after a Feb. 28 deadline for submission of all written arguments in the case.

Miller did not specify a date for his decision.

The Air Force awarded the $355 million contract Dec. 30 to Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev. Sierra Nevada is partnering with Brazil-based Embraer, which would use a hangar at Jacksonville International Airport for assembling the A-29 Super Tucano.

Rival bidder Hawker Beechcraft of Wichita, Kan., contends the Air Force wrongly excluded it from being considered for the contract. After the federal General Accounting Office rebuffed Hawker Beechcraft’s protest, the company filed suit Dec. 27 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Jacksonville has been trying for years to land a plane assembly operation. Currently, various aviation companies in the city do large-scale maintenance of planes and manufacture aircraft components.

Jacksonville Aviation Authority spokesman Michael Stewart said in the wake of the Air Force’s temporary order to stop work Wednesday, Embraer asked to postpone meetings about designing improvements at the hangar.

“From a local standpoint, yes, we are disappointed, but we understand this is part of the process,” he said.

Hawker Beechcraft has said it sued because the bidding process was marred by “inconsistent, irregular and constantly changing requirements.”

The company sought a temporary restraining order while the suit proceeds. The Air Force then decided to stop work and asked the judge to rule quickly.

The request noted the Air Force wants delivery of the planes by April 2013.

david.bauerlein@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4581

Source: http://bit.ly/xen5KB


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