Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter Division has accused the Coast Guard of being un-American.
Specifically, Bell claims, the Coast Guard is violating the 46-year-old "Buy America Act" by choosing to purchase French-made short-range helicopters instead of Bell choppers.
The Coast Guard says it is buying the French Helicopters for one simple reason: They are much better.
Now Bell has taken the federal government to court to prevent its pruchase of 90 short-range helicopters from the French company, Aerospatiale Helicopter Corp. (AHC).
The conflict began in November, 1973, when the Coast Guard began to look at whether there was a need for a new short-range recovery aircraft system to replace the Sikorsky HH-52A helicopter.
Two years later, the Coast Guard determined it was costing more to operate the Sikorsky fleet than it would cost to replace it.
Two years after that, in November, 1977, the Coast Guard come up with the criteria for the new copter, and shortly thereafter put out the call for bidders who wanted the contract to build the 90 aircraft. Three companies submitted proposals: AHC, Bell Helicopter Textron and Sikorsky Aircraft.
Earlier this year, however, Sikorsky withdrew, citing concern over the effort it needed to meet the rigid Coast Guard requirements and worries over the potential relinquishiment of proprietary data.
Two months later, on May 25, remaining competitors AHC and Bell submitted "Best and Final" offers.
The decision by the Coast Guard Evaluating Committee was a strong recommendation to the U.S. Transportation Department to award the $215 million contract to AHC because its copter was judged "significantly superior" in design quality, considered the two most important criteria to be met.
In fact, the Coast Guard evaluators found, the French aircraft had better range and went faster than its Bell counterpart. Bell received higher marks in one area: better company management: although AHC was judged to have "adequate" management.
On June 14, 1979, DOT awarded the contract to AHT. Six days later, at a debriefing given by the Coast Guard on why Bell lost the contract, Bell asked about the Buy America Act, which establishes a preference that any product pruchased by the U.S. government be made in the U.S. or at least have 50 percent of its components made in the U.S.
Then, Bell did more than ask. It went to the General Accounting Office to ask that the contract to AHC be declared invalid because it did not comply with "Buy American." Bell contended that AHC is using fewer than 50 percent U.S. parts, and that the French have to build their aircraft in France, then take it apart, only to be shipped to Texas to be reassembled in order to get around the "Buy American Act" by contending that it is build in the U.S.
And now, Bell has asked U.S. District Court Judge Joyce Green to issue a preliminary injunction against allowing AHC to fill the contract until the matter is resolved, an action the Coast Guard and AHC say could result in sharply increased costs.
In a hearing earlier this week before Judge Green, Bell claims that by granting this contract, the government is essentially repealing the "Buy American Act."
She is expected to rule on Bell's request within the week.