WorldWind Helicopters has protested the contracts that were awarded for 31 Type 2 helicopters used to fight wildland fires. On December 17 the U.S. Forest Service announced exclusive use contracts for the award period that began December 17 and ends April 30, 2015 with options for three additional years. The solicitation was first announced on April 5, 2013 and took over eight months to complete.
WorldWind Helicopters began the 2013 fire season with three helicopters on contract, but after the company had some problems making the one at Peppermint, California available when the season started, the USFS cancelled their contract for that location and later awarded it to Hillsboro Aviation.
WorldWind again submitted bids for three helicopters on this latest contract but was only given two, for John Day, Oregon and Arroyo Grande, California, for a Bell 210 and Bell 205, respectively. The USFS did not announce any award for one line item, Trimmer, California, leaving it blank on the list.
This is the fourth time in the last two years that USFS fire aviation contracts have been protested. The others were for the next-generation air tankers which were protested twice (for the first and second decisions) and the no-competition award to Neptune for two BAe-146 air tankers. In all three previous instances, the companies that fought the awards ultimately received favorable outcomes. Coulson and 10 Tanker, which did not receive awards for next-gen air tankers, got them after the protest of the first decision. Neptune, which protested the second version of the next-gen contracts, suddenly and without explanation dropped the protest a few weeks after filing it, but six months later received no-competition contracts for two BAe-146s.
The Government Accountability Office will be arbitrating the bid protest. Their decision is due by April 7, 2014. The GAO can’t do much until the USFS provides to them a report on the protest, which has not yet been received by the GAO.
When the next-gen air tanker contract was protested the first time by Neptune, several months later the attorneys and U.S. Forest Service officials dealing with the protest decided that three of the seven line items on the solicitation were exempt because the company did not bid on those line items. As a result, three companies were issued five-year exclusive use contracts at that time. It is possible that in this 32-line-item helicopter solicitation there could be some unaffected contracts that could go forward, while the individual line items protested by WorldWind would be in limbo until a final decision is reached by the GAO, or the protest is dropped by WorldWind.