Protests of air tanker contracts have been common

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A history of protests since 2013

air Tanker 914 in Chile, 2019
Tanker 914 dropping in Chile, 2019. Photo by Giovanni Inostroza Umana.

All of the contract awards for Next Generation exclusive use (EU) air tankers since 2013 have been protested by companies that did not receive a contract. In each case the action delayed activation of the new contracts by months.

Here is the history of Next Gen EU contract protests.

Next Gen 1.0
Neptune filed a protest after the awards were first announced May 6, 2013 when they did not receive a contract. This halted the awarding of the contracts and put the process in limbo until May 30 when actual signed contracts were finally issued to three companies for three air tankers, which the contracting officers felt were not affected by the protest:

  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier for one of their two DC-10s
  • Minden Air Corp for a BAe-146
  • Coulson Aircrane (USA) for a C-130Q

Then on June 7 Neptune withdrew their protest. It was disclosed later that the Forest Service and Neptune had entered into a written agreement under which the agency agreed to award Neptune a sole-source contract for two Next-Gen large airtankers in exchange for Neptune withdrawing its protest. The withdrawal of the protest allowed the contracts for the remaining four aircraft to be awarded to:

  • Erickson Aero Tanker, for two MD87s
  • Aero Flite, for two Avro RJ85s

The next-gen 1.0 contracts were finalized 555 days after the USFS issued the first solicitation for the aircraft.

GAO logoAs specified in the agreement, on December 12, 2013 the U.S. Forest Service awarded a sole source non-competitive contract to Neptune Aviation to supply two next-generation air tankers for the next four to nine years beginning in 2014. The estimated total value of the contract was $141,000,000 and had a base period of four years with the possibility of adding five more. The hourly rate began at about $8,000 and increased to about $12,000 by the end of nine years.

In January of 2014 four aerial firefighting companies protested the non-competitive award, Erickson Aero Tanker, Coulson, Minden Air Corp., and 10 Tanker. On March 31, 2014 the GAO sustained the protest, concluding that the U.S. Forest Service “could not reasonably justify” the non-competitive process used in awarding the contract to Neptune.

Next Gen 2.0
In June, 2015 Erickson Aero Tanker and Coulson Aviation protested some of the terms of the solicitation process for Next Gen 2.0 before any announcement was made about awarding contracts. The GAO denied the protests in July, 2015.

Call When Needed contract, 2017
In November, 2017 the Government Accountability Office upheld a protest by Global SuperTanker (GST) who contended the Forest Service’s Call When Needed contract restriction on the maximum size of a retardant tank was unduly restrictive of competition. For the first time in their air tanker contracting history, according to the GAO, the FS had restricted the maximum size of retardant tanks, specifying the capacity must be between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons. This eliminated Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT) from being able to compete, since the DC-10 holds 9,400 gallons and the GST 747 carries up to 19,200.

Next Gen 3.0
The U.S. Forest Service announced on March 26 that three companies received contracts on the Next Gen 3.0 solicitation — Erickson Aero Tanker for two tankers, Aero Flite for two, and Coulson for one.

Neptune Aviation and 10 Tanker Air Carrier both filed bid protests (here and here) on April 6, 2020. The due date for the GAO to adjudicate the action is July 15, 2020.

One thought on “Protests of air tanker contracts have been common”

  1. Maybe if the USFS got their act together, and they were reasonable ;then there would not be that number of protests .??Keeps happening year after year !
    There are enough fires to keeps all aircraft busy, and then some!!

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