Leonardo files legal challenge to Airbus FWSAR contract

Airbus’recently-won $4.7 billion contract to provide the Royal Canadian Air Force with a new fleet of fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft appears to be headed for some turbulence. An Italian aircraft company, which lost out in the FWSAR competition, is asking a federal court to review the decision of the Public Services and Procurement Canada to award the multi-billion dollar contract to Airbus.

Airbus’ C295-W, was chosen by the PSPC in December to replace the air force’s fleet 40-year-old Buffalo aircraft and CC-130 search and rescue planes. The government will be buying 16 C295-Ws from Airbus.

However, the C295-W “is unfit to safely perform certain key search and rescue tasks and missions required by Canada and should have been, therefore, disqualified,” according to the application for judicial review filed by Team Spartan. The application was filed January 6th this year but only made public February 23rd after a formal claim was filed in court earlier in the week.

In the documents it filed in court, Team Spartan is also questioning why the contract was given to Airbus when the original request for proposal clearly stated that the FWSAR package should not exceed $3.4 billion including in-service maintenance costs.

Airbus meanwhile, defended its aircraft.

“We are aware of the legal action that has been taken,” the company said in an email to Vanguard. “The C295-W is fully compliant with the requirements as set out by the government.”

Airbus said it will not comment on matters before the court.

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Team Spartan, is a consortium made up of Italy’s Leonardo Aircraft, General Dynamics Mission Systems Canada, DRS Technologies, Spartan Aviation Services, KF Aerospace, IMP Aerospace, Flyht, True Simulation and Training, Esterline, ATCO Structure and Logistics, and Rolls Royce.

Team Spartan wants the federal court to cancel the Airbus contract and award the FWSAR contract to Leonardo instead. The team is promoting Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi’s C-27J aircraft for the FWSAR program.

“The C-27J is the only aircraft in its class with the speed and range to respond to SAR incidents across Canada’s entire area of responsibility while operating from Canada’s existing base structure,” according to the press release from Team Spartan.

The contender also raised the issue of total cost of the C-295W purchase.

Airbus’ C-295W two-phase procurement program comes up to a total of $4.7 billion. The first phase which involves purchase of the aircraft, simulators and 11 years of support is worth $2.7 billion. The second phase, which covers future in-service support, is estimated at $2.3 billion.

“Team Spartan met with Public  Service and Procurement Canada in December to get some clarity about this discrepancy,” according to Mike Plastino, spokesperson for the consortium, “They did not give a full response or enough information on how they came to their decision.”

It was after this failed attempt that Team Spartan has applied to the Federal Court for an order requesting that Canada cancel the contract with Airbus.

In an interview with the CBC, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he was confident that all the appropriate steps were followed in awarding the contract to Airbus.

“A decision has been made and it’s a really good thing for Canadians,” he told CBC. “If somebody has any concerns about that decision they have the right to be able to have a look at that decision and use the various processes within our court system.”


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