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Protests upheld on tanker bids

Apr 3, 2014 - The Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- A federal auditing agency on Wednesday upheld a challenge to a U.S. Forest Service contract for two next-generation air tankers to fight wildfires.

But it was not yet clear what impact the decision might have on the federal air tanker fleet this summer.

Three competing air tanker companies objected to a sole-source contract the Forest Service awarded to Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Mont. It calls for paying up to $496 million over nine years for exclusive use of two BAE-146 aircraft.

The Government Accountabil-ity Office said the Forest Service should either bolster its justification for considering just one company or redo the bidding. The Forest Service awarded the contract to Neptune as part of a settlement agreement in return for Neptune dropping another bid protest, GAO said.

Forest Service spokeswoman Jennifer Jones said the agency is evaluating that choice.

She said the agency still has 10 large air tankers ready for fire season, including two of the next-generation type that fly faster with bigger payloads of fire retardant.

Officials hope to get five more next-generation air tankers under contract by the summer.

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