Thursday, January 7, 2016

FWSAR Bids Due Monday

After more than a decade of delays, aerospace firms will submit their bids next week to provide Canada’s air force with a new fleet of search-and-rescue planes.

So far, three companies have said they plan to bid on the $3.1 billion project.

The bids are due Monday, Pierre-Alain Bujold, spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, said in an email.

Aerospace companies will submit bids proposing a combination of aircraft and in-service support to replace the Canadian military’s existing fleet of Buffalo and Hercules aircraft used for search and rescue, he said.

The Buffalos, first purchased in 1967, are key to search and rescue on the west coast and in parts of the Rockies. Those aircraft are already facing mechanical and technical problems and several years ago, the air force had difficulty obtaining spare propellers.

Airbus Defence and Space plans to offer Canada its C-295 aircraft while Alenia is bidding its C-27J plane.

The Brazilian aerospace firm Embraer has said it will propose its KC-390 aircraft.

Canada released its request for proposals from industry on March 31.

But the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces first announced the project to buy a new fleet of search-and-rescue aircraft in 2004.

The Conservatives reannounced that project as part of their Canada First Defence Strategy. In 2008, then-defence minister Peter MacKay called the project a top priority and vowed to buy a new fleet of planes by early 2009. That never happened.

In 2011, DND and the Canadian Forces again noted the project was to be one of their top procurement goals over the next three years but the acquisition has continued to limp along.

On Tuesday, a report from the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the University of Calgary blamed delays in equipment purchases on the turnover of ministers and senior military staff as well as on delays caused by federal elections.

But aerospace industry representatives say that wasn’t the case with the proposed purchase of the fixed-wing search-and-rescue planes. Shortly after the project was launched, various aerospace firms accused the Canadian air force of rigging the contract to favour Alenia’s C-27J. Those accusations, in turn, caused years of delays as government officials painstakingly tried to ensure the process was seen to be fair.

Senior air force officers denied there was any favouritism at play.

But Alan Williams, the Department of National Defence’s former assistant deputy minister for materiel, later testified before a parliamentary committee that the Canadian air force had designed the requirements for the original search-and-rescue aircraft project to favor the C-27J, prompting the complaints to government from companies.

In 2014, the Citizen obtained DND documents that also blamed some of the delay on the Conservative government’s freeze on hiring staff. That resulted in a shortage of personnel in the search-and-rescue aircraft project management office, according to the records.

DND officials acknowledged the freeze had created some problems but noted that it was only temporary and the situation has improved.

During the election campaign, the Liberals promised that their government would “prioritize the acquisition of cost-effective search and rescue aircraft.”

The project originally envisioned buying 17 aircraft. But that has been changed and it will be up to aerospace firms to submit in their bids the numbers of aircraft they believe are needed for Canada to handle the needed search-and-rescue capability.

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