Aviation Companies Protest Forest Service Contract with Neptune - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Aviation Companies Protest Forest Service Contract with Neptune

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MISSOULA -

Four aviation companies are protesting the Forest Service awarding a multimillion dollar contract to Missoula-based Neptune Aviation Services.

Neptune officials were in the final stages securing the contract last month, which would have allowed them to deliver fire retardant all over the country.

Now, that process is on hold.

Neptune Aviation Services actually lost the bid for the contract back in May, but Senator Jon Tester helped the company renegotiate with the Forest Service, earning them the contract for two Neptune air tankers.

"So, on the 12th, things looked really good for us," Ron Hooper said, CEO of Neptune Aviation Services.

But, companies had 10 days to file protest with the Government Accountability Office before the deal was sealed, and four did.

Hooper said the protesters are Coulson Aviation, 10 Tanker, AeroAir and Minden Air, based in California, New Mexico, Oregon and Nevada.

"And, with the protest, that pretty much puts all that on hold now."

Hooper said officials at the four companies disagree with the Forest Service's decision to award the contract on a "sole source basis," meaning they offered it only to Neptune.

"The protesters are of the mind and of the position that either the government should have awarded subcontract line items to them, which they have available, or competed it-- let everyone bid on those two contracts," he said.

Hooper said the four-year Next Generation contract, along with the already secured Legacy contract, would have earned the company $50 million, with the potential for $141 million total over an additional five years.

"You know, that was our future, that set us up for the next nine years," Hooper said.

Now, the Forest Service will file their response to the protests by January 23. Then, the four companies have another 10 days to file their final response through the Government Accountability Office.

"Then, that is the record that GAO will rule upon, they can rule upon the written responses, or they can decide to hold hearings and call witnesses," Hooper explained.

Hooper said he hopes his company will still be chosen because of the level of service they provide.

He said, "You know, we've been doing this for 20 years with the Forest Service and they understand and they appreciate and acknowledge the quality of the service we provide."

The Government Accountability Office will have 60 days to make their decision on the contract.

But, Hooper said he expects they'll make the ruling by March.

Neptune Aviation's planes used for firefighting are converted commercial jets, with 3,000-gallon tanks for delivering fire retardant.

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