AAI contracts salvaged in Congress


AAI Corp. gained one victory and a draw in congressional budget battling yesterday.

The victory: In the early hours yesterday, a House-Senate conference committee came up with a compromise plan to address a technical glitch that threatened a $211 million contract awarded to AAI last month for the production of electronic equipment used to measure airport weather conditions and pass them on to pilots preparing to land.

The draw: The committee also authorized the spending of $12.7 millions for a small, camera-carrying drone aircraft made by the Cockeysville company.

A Pentagon request for $17 million to replace drones lost or damaged in the Persian Gulf war had been cut from both the House and Senate appropriation bills.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, who led the House fight for the restoration of funding for AAI's Pioneer craft, technically called remote pilotless vehicles, said "the committee felt that system worked very, very well in the Persian Gulf war and they should be replaced."

The tiny plane, about 14 feet long with a wingspan of 17 feet, carried a camera in its belly and was flown over enemy territory to send back live TV coverage of enemy troop movements. It was also used for damage assessment and to direct artillery shells, fired from battleships in the Persian Gulf, to their targets.

There were several reports of Iraqi soldiers trying to surrender to the small planes as they circled overhead.

Mr. Hoyer said it was "unusual" for funding to be reinstated for a program during conference committee negotiations when it was not included in the appropriation bills of either legislative chamber.

AAI's contract to produce the airport weather equipment was threatened by a legal clause requiring the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain congressional approval before entering into any multiyear contracts exceeding $100 million.

In drawing up its contract with AAI, the FAA either overlooked or ignored this provision of the law, said Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

Mr. Morrill said that the conference committee decided to void the funding allocated to the weather system for fiscal year 1991, but it was done with the understanding that the DOT already had other funds from previous years that it could apply to the contract.

Mr. Morrill said that the action by the House Appropriations Committee was a "slap on the wrists" of the FAA and DOT but would not hurt AAI or void a contract for equipment considered vital to efforts to improve safety at U.S. airports.

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