February 20, 2018 10:49:52 AM
A decision by a competitor to drop all legal actions challenging Airbus Helicopters' contracts to provide as many as 51 UH-72A Lakota Helicopters should keep the Airbus assembly plant operating without fear of layoffs or furloughs, the Texas-based company says.
Italian-based Leonardo, which had challenged in court an agreement between the U.S. Army and Airbus to provide 51 helicopters it uses for training pilots, announced last week it will drop its remaining lawsuit after an appeals court ruled the disputed 2016 order of 16 helicopters complied with procurement regulations.
Airbus plans to build the helicopters at its Columbus plant.
Leonardo had argued successfully in a lower court those aircraft should be put before a competitive bid process rather than as a "follow-on" order for additional helicopters under a previous order.
Just four days before the appeals court ruling, Leonardo had filed suit to force the 2017 order of 35 Lakota into a bid process, using the same argument the appeals court ruled against.
Last week, Leonardo issued a statement saying it has dropped all legal action challenging those orders.
"In light of the Appellate Court ruling, Leonardo Helicopters has decided to discontinue any further legal action regarding the sole-source award of trainer helicopters to the U.S. Army," the statement reads. "We nonetheless continue to believe that strong competition for government programs is in the best interests of our war fighters, American taxpayers and the U.S. defense industrial base. Of course, we are disappointed that there was no competition in this case."
Airbus responded with a statement of its own, which read:
"We expect that Leonardo's decision to drop all litigation will lead to additional UH-72A Lakota orders from the U.S. Army, which would be built in Columbus. The Army has already initiated steps in the procurement process that would allow it to contract for additional aircraft in the near future. With additional Army orders, Airbus will be able to (continue) its Columbus assembly line operating and preserve the jobs of the (plant's) nearly 200 person workforce."
Prior to Leonardo's decision to drop its suit, Airbus President and CEO Chris Emerson said the Columbus facility would roll out the last of its Army-ordered helicopters by the end of February, but the company intended to keep assembling helicopters at its own expense until its inventory had been exhausted.
Although there is no time-table for when the company and the Army could agree on contracts for the helicopters that had been approved and funded by Congress for 2016 and 2017, company officials believe the agreement will come soon enough to avoid any layoffs.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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