A Missoula-based aviation company has lost a bid for a multimillion dollar contract with the U.S. Forest Service to deliver fire retardant to wildfires all over the country.
Neptune Aviation CEO Ron Hooper said they've requested a debriefing report from the U.S. Forest Service, to learn more about why their bid on the contract was not approved.
Then, Hooper said they'll file their protest with the Government Accountability Office, and ideally, the Forest Service will have to approve the contract.
"We pride ourselves in being the top of the industry with quality products, quality maintenance and safety, and quality flight crews," Hooper said.
Hooper said they bid on the "next generation" contract with the Forest Service last November.
"The Forest Service is trying to acquire modern jet-engine aircraft to modernize their air tanker fleet," he said.
Hooper said Neptune's offer included the use of two of their airtankers, which are converted, commercial jets that now deliver fire retardant to wildfire sites in a 3,000-gallon tank.
"They're dispatched by the Forest Service and they're provided with a lead plane, which actually leads our aircraft in to show them where they want the retardant dropped," he explained.
National Interagency Fire Center Public Affairs Officer Jennifer Jones said the Forest Service chooses bids on contracts based on a technical evaluation, organizational experience and past performance along with pricing. Jones said the Forest Service did choose to renew Neptune's "legacy" contract to use seven of its aircraft for the next five years.
Jones said, "Neptune has been a very valuable partner in fire suppression with the Forest Service for many years."
Hooper said they've held the "legacy" contract for the past 20 years, but they were banking on winning the bid for the "next generation" contract as well.
"You know, we've told our employees the situation. We've told them they're employment's secure, so we're not in panic mode, we're managing this latest development from a corporate level and we're confident we'll work through this," Hooper said.
Neptune company officials said they will have ten days to file their protest after they receive the debriefing report from the Forest Service.
Neptune aircraft are dispatched to wildfires all over the country, and currently have airtankers in California.