Blackwater's Latest Contract

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 9:27 AM EST

Blackwater has had a rough year PR-wise, as the company has faced allegations ranging from murder to tax evasion, while also managing to kill the New York Times' possibly feral pooch Hentish along the way. But, in the aftermath, Erik Prince's companies certainly haven't suffered for business. In late September, less than two weeks after Blackwater contractors opened fire on a Baghdad street, killing 17 civilians, the company's air cargo and transport subsidiary, Presidential Airways, was awarded a 4-year, $92 million contract by the Pentagon to provide its services in central and southern Asia. And, just yesterday, the agency announced that it was throwing the company another $50 million contract—this one, no-bid—to provide "heavy lift fixed-wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance, and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo (combi) Short Take-Off and Landing air transportation services." The area of operations, as in the first contract, is Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Though lesser-known than Blackwater, Presidential Airways also has a somewhat controversial history. Its planes, and those operated by its parent company, Aviation Worldwide Services, have been linked to CIA rendition flights. And both companies face a wrongful death suit filed by the families of three soldiers who were killed when one of Presidential's CASA 212's crashed in Afghanistan in 2004. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the crash, reported that "the probable cause of the accident was the captain's inappropriate decision to fly a nonstandard route and his failure to maintain adequate terrain clearance, which resulted in the inflight collision with mountainous terrain." According to the report, the pilot had failed to file a flight plan or "adhere to a defined route of flight," and the company itself failed to "ensure that the flight crews adhered to company policies" or FAA or Defense Department regulations. At the time of the crash, the report says, Presidential's crew was intentionally flying through a valley at low altitude for "fun."