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Eurocopter contract on hold after protest lodged by competitor

A competitor for the Army’s $1.3 billion, 322-aircraft Light Utility Helicopter program has filed a protest over the awarding of the contract to American Eurocopter Corp.

MD Helicopters Inc., a Mesa, Ariz.-based producer of light helicopters, filed an official protest with the Army.

Eurocopter planned to build the EC-145 — known as the UH-72A to the military — at its Columbus plant. The contract, if formalized would mean a 184,000-square-foot, $30 million expansion and as many as 250 additional jobs.

The new plant would be built on 40 acres adjacent to the company’s existing plant next to Golden Triangle Regional Airport.

Eurocopter had planned to start construction on the expansion by early September and have the plant running within a year.

The contract, which calls for 322 helicopters with an option possibly for 30 more, was awarded June 30 after more than a year of testing by the Pentagon, which plans to use the helicopters to upgrade aircrafts for domestic use by the Army and National Guard.

The UH-72A would replace the aging UH-1 and OH-58 helicopters.

MD Helicopters is protesting the deal because American Eurocopter is a subsidiary of the European Aeronautics Defense and Space Co., a French-German conglomerate.

Kimberly Henry, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army’s Aviation and Missile Command in Alabama, declined to comment on the specifics of MD Helicopter’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.

Under the Army’s contract procedures, protests are to be decided within 35 days, during which activity on the contract is suspended.

While the new plant is being built, Eurocopter planned to manufacture the frames of the helicopters at one of its plants in Germany and ship them to Columbus where they would be reassembled and customized.

In a statement released shortly after the contract was awarded, Lynn Tilton, acting CEO of MD Helicopters, said the contract should have gone to an American company.

“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, it is a true injustice,” Tilton said in the statement.