Recent Legislation Will Fund Contracts For Wildfire Suppression Companies
Recent federal legislation to help aerial firefighting companies modernize their fleets is drawing praise from one of the industry's trade associations. The American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) recently officially thanked Congress for its passage of the legislation which authorizes the US Forest Service (USFS) to make multi-year, operational funding available to private operators for fleet modernization of large air tankers engaged in wildland fire suppression. The Bill, S 3261, “Contract Awards For Large Air Tankers,” was signed by President Obama on June 13.
“With the President's signature, current air tanker operators can move forward with plans to acquire new tankers, and encourage qualified entrepreneurs to enter the business using modern aircraft,” said Tom Eversole, AHSAFA Executive Director. “It is definitely a first step toward deployment of a new generation of aerial firefighting assets, which will help the industry grow into a more effective wildland firefighting force.”
The legislation initially authorizes $24 million for the USFS to fund exclusive use contracts for wildfire suppression by four companies. The contracts are for a base period of five years, with five, one-year options for contracts awarded in 2012, and four, one-year options for those awarded in 2013. The four operators--Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., Minden Air Corporation, Aero Air LLC, and Aero Flite, Inc.--will be contractually obligated to provide a total of seven next-generation tankers in 2012 and 2013. The aircraft proposed by the companies include the British Aerospace BAe 146 and Avro RJ85, and the McDonnell Douglas MD87. All are late-model, commercial jets, reconfigured for the air tanker role. Eversole noted that the USFS has indicated a need for 26-28 tankers to achieve total fleet modernization over time.
“The contracts represent significant progress in our collaboration between AHSAFA and the USFS, since 2005, when the industry requested the agency to provide specifications for new air tanker requirements,” said Eversole. “When the USFS issued a request for proposal for new air tanker platforms last October, the aerial tanker operators had already developed a road map proposal for fleet modernization, which we presented to the agency. Thanks to our ongoing dialog with the USFS, we found the industry proposal and the agency's request for proposal reinforced one another.”
Eversole also credited the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as a driving force. “Working with the members and staff of the Committee, as well as the USFS, helped us reach this point.”
One of the four companies, Neptune Aviation Services has been operating a BAe 146 tanker since last September under Interagency Airtanker Board interim approval. Neptune has been demonstrating the viability of the new-generation tanker under real world conditions--more recently the massive Whitewater-Baldy fire in New Mexico--according to Dan Snyder, President of the Missoula, Montana-based company.
“The reports we are getting from the USFS indicate the BAe 146 is performing as expected, or better,” he said. “The aircraft is able to reach a fire in half the time it takes our propeller-driven P2V’s.” Neptune expects to have three BAe 146 tankers available by year-end.
“The contract awards give Neptune Aviation Services the ability to continue to provide more Next Generation air tankers to the USFS,” said Snyder. “With just this contract we have the ability to provide as many as 6 additional new air tankers to the nation's large air tanker fleet, for up to 10 years.”
Neptune Aviation is a member of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), a Washington-based trade association representing commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting. (Images from File)