Decision in the Matter of Airbus Helicopters, Inc.
(Source: US Government Accountability Office; dated May 12, issued May 18, 2020)
The decision issued on the date above was subject to a GAO Protective Order. This redacted version has been approved for public release.
GAO found that the offer submitted by Airbus did not match the one submitted by Leonardo, which the US Navy selected as the winner of the training helicopter competition. (GAO graphic)

1. Protest challenging the agency’s evaluation of offerors’ technical proposals is denied where the protest allegations are not supported by the record, and the evaluation and source selection decision were reasonable and consistent with the solicitation.

2. Protest that the agency engaged in disparate treatment is denied where the differences in the evaluation stemmed from differences between the offerors’ proposals.


Airbus Helicopters, Inc., of Grand Prairie, Texas, protests the award of a contract to AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corp. (Leonardo),[1] of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under request for proposals (RFP) No. N61340-19-R-0007, issued by the Department of the Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, for 130 commercial helicopters certified under the instrument flight rules to be used for an advanced undergraduate helicopter pilot training systems program. The protester challenges various aspects of the agency’s evaluation of offerors’ proposals and source selection decision.

We deny the protest.


The RFP was issued on January 28, 2019, pursuant to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) parts 12 and 15. The RFP contemplated award of a fixed-price contract for a base period and four option periods. The purpose of the RFP is to procure an advanced helicopter training system consisting of specified aircraft, a corresponding ground-based training system, and contractor logistics support and maintenance.

The RFP informed offerors that the agency would evaluate proposals using two factors, technical and price, where the technical factor would be significantly more important than price.

The technical factor included two subfactors listed in descending order of importance: (1) aircraft system; and (2) management and support. The RFP advised that the agency would assign a technical rating and a technical risk rating to offerors’ proposals under the technical factor, based on the technical rating and technical risk rating assigned under each of the two technical subfactors.

The RFP described the technical rating as an assessment of compliance with the solicitation requirements that also considers the benefits and detriments related to program performance and operations.

The technical risk rating would assess the risk associated with the technical approach in meeting the requirements, considering the potential for disruption of schedule, increase in costs, degradation of performance, need to increase government oversight, or likelihood of unsuccessful contract performance.

When evaluating the technical factor and subfactors, the following technical ratings would be used: outstanding, good, acceptable, marginal, and unacceptable. In addition, the following technical risk ratings would be used: low, moderate, high, and unacceptable.

As relevant here, for the aircraft system subfactor, the RFP instructed offerors to provide documentation “demonstrating how the Offeror’s proposed aircraft meets or exceeds the system attributes as identified [in the RFP] and in the respective paragraphs of the [performance-based specifications (PBS)].”

Under this subfactor, the RFP further specified that the agency would evaluate the proposal’s compliance with the solicitation requirements and risk associated with the offeror’s approach in the following five elements: (1) overall compliance; (2) instrument training; (3) navigation training; (4) warfighting skills training; and (5) safety.

The RFP further indicated that emphasis would be on the first two elements of overall compliance and instrument training. The RFP explained that the agency may assess one or more strengths, risk reducers, weaknesses, or significant weaknesses for each element (except for overall compliance, for which strengths would not be assessed) “based on the degree to which the Offeror’s proposed attribute solutions, as a whole, provide[] the highest quality solution.”[3]

The RFP advised offerors that the agency would evaluate each offeror’s written proposal in conjunction with the system performance demonstration (SPD), which would not be rated separately, but would be used to facilitate the agency’s evaluation of the aircraft system subfactor and “may affect the Aircraft System risk rating.”

The RFP warned offerors that “requirements specified in the SPD that cannot be evaluated and that are not adequately addressed in the written proposal may receive a significant weakness or deficiency.”

The agency was to conduct both flight and ground SPDs, and provide four agency helicopter pilots and one flight test engineer. Each offeror was to provide one aircraft with a representative cockpit configuration and a subject matter expert to assist the pilots in understanding the cockpit controls, at a minimum.

Regarding price, the RFP advised that the agency would evaluate each offeror’s total evaluated price for unbalanced pricing and to ensure that the proposed price is within the stated budgetary constraints on a per-contract line item number (CLIN) basis and cumulative basis.

The total evaluated price would consist of the sum of all fixed-price CLINs and a 10-year projected operation and support cost calculated using the Conklin & de Decker Life Cycle Cost Product.

The RFP informed offerors that the agency intended to evaluate each proposal and award a contract after discussions to the responsible offeror whose proposal, conforming to the solicitation, provides the best value to the government, all factors considered.

The agency received proposals from five offerors, including Airbus and Leonardo. After receipt of written proposals, the agency conducted SPDs with each offeror’s aircraft.

The agency eliminated one offeror from the competitive range and conducted multiple rounds of discussions with the remaining offerors, including Airbus and Leonardo.

Discussions consisted of issuing evaluation notices (EN), holding oral discussions “to ensure the ENs were well understood prior to the submittal of written responses,” and permitting the offerors to submit proposal revisions.

The agency received final proposal revisions from the remaining offerors, including Airbus and Leonardo, prior to the due date of October 31.

As relevant here, for the aircraft system subfactor, the agency assigned the following to Airbus’s proposal: one significant weakness, two weaknesses, and eight risk reducers under the overall compliance element; one strength under the warfighting skills training element; and one strength under the safety element. (Emphasis added—Ed.)

For the same subfactor, the agency assigned the following to Leonardo’s proposal: five risk reducers under the overall compliance element; and one strength each under the instrument training, navigation training, warfighting skills training, and safety elements.

After reviewing the SSEB’s evaluations and the SSAC’s analysis and conducting an independent assessment of the merits of the offerors’ proposals, the source selection authority (SSA) concluded that Leonardo’s proposal provided the best value to the government.

On January 13, 2020, the agency awarded the contract to Leonardo and notified Airbus. Following a debriefing that concluded on January 29, Airbus filed this protest.


The protester primarily argues that the agency unreasonably and disparately evaluated the offerors’ technical proposals under the aircraft system subfactor. The protester also challenges the source selection decision as unreasonable and based on a flawed technical evaluation. As discussed below, we find no basis to sustain the protest. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full report (23 PDF pages), on the GAO website.


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