Evergreen files lawsuit against Erickson

Evergreen Helicopters of McMinnville has filed an antitrust and breach-of-contract suit against Erickson Air-Crane Inc.

Evergreen, a heavy lift helicopter operator, filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland, claiming Erickson Air-Crane has shut it out of potential jobs by limiting access to parts and other services.

Evergreen, which operates one Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane and two Sikorsky CH-54A Skycranes, alleges it has been unable to fly its helicopters for the number of hours customer demand would support, has been delayed in making its CH-54s operational, and has had to turn away contracts because one or more of its Skycranes were grounded by a lack of spare parts.

Evergreen claims it has been unable to bid on certain contracts because it could not be assured that it would have all the parts required and has been forced to spend resources in a mostly futile effort to find alternative sources for parts. Evergreen also says it has incurred additional expense in writing manuals to get its CH-54s certified as airworthy, without access to documentation from Erickson.

Evergreen cites contractual agreements dating back to 1992 with Sikorsky that obligates Erickson to provide parts, components and accessories for Skycrane aircraft. The amount Evergreen seeks in the suit is to be decided at trial and would be tripled because of the antitrust claim.

Erickson officials said the suit caught them by surprise.

"We certainly weren't expecting this," Chief Executive Officer Udo Rieder said. "We sell them lots of parts, actually. We support them (with parts and service) today, like all our other customers."

Attorneys for Evergreen Helicopters at Tonkon Torp law firm in Portland did not immediately return calls Monday.

Erickson Air-Crane has operated in Central Point since the mid-1970s. In spring the company's front office was moved to Portland, but the heavy lift helicopter operator and manufacturer continues to run its plant on Willow Springs Road.

The suit notes that Erickson has sold parts to S-64 operators since acquiring the Sikorsky rights, but alleges Erickson has delayed fulfilling orders, placed restrictions on the purchasing of parts and failed to fully supply parts.

"Particularly in the past four years, Erickson has made it more difficult, refusing to provide S-64 operators with manuals that would allow its competitors to maintain their helicopters themselves, as they have done in the past," the suit says. "As a consequence, Erickson's S-64 Skycrane competitors must go to Erickson for scheduled maintenance, yet Erickson prioritizes the maintenance of its own helicopters over its competitors, creating delay and hindering its competitors' operations."

Evergreen's suit says Erickson began selling parts to CH-54 operators in 2008 after it was sued and a federal court ruled Erickson had a contractual obligation to do so.

"However, none of this has changed Erickson's desire to use its monopoly over the parts market to leverage a monopoly over the service market," the suit says. "Erickson's refusals to deal and limitations on its dealings with (Evergreen) have been for the purpose of furthering its longer-term goal of maintaining and extending its control of the heavy lift helicopter service market."

Evergreen alleges Erickson, by refusing to sell and limiting the sale of parts and providing timely maintenance, has restricted output of services and is raising industry prices "by creating a scarcity of supply."

The suit says Erickson sold Skycranes to Italy and Korea, but has refused to sell its helicopters to Evergreen.

The suit alleges Erickson threatened to stop selling Evergreen parts if it sold them to another Skycrane owner. At the same time, it claims, Erickson prohibited other operators from selling its parts to Evergreen.

Surplus parts were once available through government surplus sales.

"However, those alternative sources have almost completely dried up, and it is presently difficult, if not impossible, to locate Skycrane parts from sources other than Erickson," the suit says.

As a result, Evergreen claims, Erickson controls close to 100 percent of the parts market and has a near monopoly because it can suppress competitors' ability to fly.

Reach Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com.

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