WASHINGTON (AP) -- Executives at Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. said Tuesday they expect the Air Force to remain on schedule for awarding a disputed $15 billion helicopter contract, although they don't anticipate official word until the end of December.
Last week's cancellation by the Pentagon of a separate competition for a $35 billion aerial refueling tanker contract has elevated the Air Force's priority for awarding the combat, search-and-rescue helicopter deal as quickly as possible, according to company and service officials.
Rick Lemaster, Boeing's HH-47 program manager, said he's "hopeful" the Air Force will make an award by the end of fall. But like many things that have gone wrong on the program, anything is possible, he added.
The deal to replace 141 aging helicopters has been on hold for the past two years after Boeing won it in November 2006. The award was protested by both Lockheed and Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp. The Government Accountability Office backed the losing bidders' protests, and called on the Air Force to reopen the entire competition.
The Air Force is expected to provide its interim review by Oct. 6, which would then start a 10-day clock for the three bidders to file their final proposals. The service has also planned a meeting for Dec. 10, to review its final decision before making a public announcement.
Lockheed Vice President Daniel Spoor said the service's decision to schedule a meeting indicates the Air Force has every intention of making an award.
A representative from Sikorsky Aircraft could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.