Copter Maker Files Protest

Manufacturer Of Md. Medevac Fleet Says Bid Process Favors Competitor And Would Raise Costs

September 05, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,

The manufacturer of Maryland's medevac helicopters is protesting the state's effort to replace the aging fleet, alleging that the bidding process favors another company and would add to the program's cost.

State officials have budgeted more than $50 million to buy new helicopters, and bids from manufacturers were due last month. American Eurocopter has filed a formal protest with the state Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the procurement of the aircraft, and wrote a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The medevac system has been under scrutiny since a fatal helicopter crash and a critical legislative audit last year. The issue was hotly debated during the General Assembly session as some lawmakers sought to privatize the system, a proposal that was ultimately rejected. Lawmakers set aside funding to replace the aircraft.

American Eurocopter, the maker of the 11 helicopters currently in the fleet, opted not to submit a proposal to supply new helicopters. The company called the process "flawed" because the requirements appeared to be written to favor another company, AgustaWestland.

The contract has not been awarded, and Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, declined to comment on the procurement process. Citing state regulations, Cahalan said he could not disclose the names or number of bidders.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor is committed to ensuring that the state's vaunted medevac system remains among the best in the world, and referred questions regarding the bidding to the transportation agency.

Officials with AgustaWestland did not return phone calls seeking comment.

American Eurocopter contends that the specifications for the new helicopters, such as an emphasis on speed, were written so the "preordained" result would be that AgustaWestland's aircraft is chosen.

American Eurocopter says Agusta- Westland's helicopter is larger and more powerful than needed to carry out the state police missions and would be more expensive to buy and cost more to maintain.

Instead of buying new helicopters, American Eurocopter suggested that Maryland upgrade its existing fleet, pointing to the state's budget shortfall.

"The best course of action for the state in this difficult fiscal and budgetary environment, without sacrificing safety, mission and performance, is to reconsider a modernization program for the existing Maryland State Police fleet," Larry Roberts, a company vice president, wrote to O'Malley.

Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, said the bidding process appears "questionable" and that he would ask a legislative audit committee to conduct a hearing on the matter.

But Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., the House chairman of the joint committee, said that while he would consider the request, he's reluctant to interfere in the process.

"Let the system work itself out, and if Eurocopter feels they aren't getting a fair crack at it, I'm sure there's an appeal process," said DeBoy, a Baltimore County Democrat.

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