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AirVenture Forum Offers Insight Into Av-Management At US Interior Department

DOI Oversees Extensive Fleet Of Gov't, Private Aircraft

by ANN Correspondent Maxine Scheer

When thinking about aviation activities of the federal government, most people would probably think first of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or branches of the military which operate large fleet of aircraft, such as the Navy or Air Force. What may be less familiar, are the aviation activities of the US Department of the Interior (DOI).

The DOI is the nation's principal conservation agency and manages over 500 million acres of surface land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States. Agencies organized under DOI include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Reclamation, US Geological Survey (USGS), Office of Surface Mining (OSM), and the Minerals Management Service (MMS). Each agency's responsibilities include missions that involve the use of a variety of aircraft, many of which are used in critical mission situations such as search and rescue or fire suppression.

Located in the Federal Pavilion here at AirVenture 2007 are representatives from DOI's Aviation Management Directorate. Under the Direction of the National Business Center (NBC), the Aviation Division (NBC-AM) provides an extensive list of aviation training, maintenance, management and support services. NBC -AM's primary goals are " raise the safety standards, increase the efficiency, and promote the economical operation of aircraft activities in the Department of Interior."

As aviation missions are often regional, NBC-AM is headquartered in Boise, Idaho with three regional locations (Atlanta, GA; Anchorage, AK; Boise, ID - satellite in Phoenix, AZ). NBC-AM provides the DOI with about 400 government controlled aircraft (97 fleet aircraft owned by the government, and 300 obtained from the private sector though various long-term contracts.) The NBC-AM regional network also provides DOI access to some 1,000 aircraft through short term contract arrangements.

For example, aircraft which fly missions for NPS are estimated to log over 20,000 hours per year. The Alaska Region of the DOI boasts what is arguably the largest fleet of "bush" aircraft in the world with over 56 single engine fixed wing aircraft that fly 10,000 hours per year.

Safety training services offered by NBC-AM are extensive, and include instructor-led and web-based training classes on accident prevention, transporting freight and hazardous materials, rappelling, hoisting and management. NMB-AM also maintains the Aviation Safety Communication database (SAFECOM) that can generate reports used to educate and prevent aviation mishaps.

Other services include commercial flight services such as scheduling and coordination of flight missions, aviation program management, which includes ground school and flight training, research and evaluation of technology for aircraft and pilots, and development of aviation policies.

Aero-News spoke with a few of the representatives of DOI's Aviation Management group to get a sense of the types of DOI missions that require the use of aircraft and to learn about their services. Shad Sitz, National Aviation Training Specialist, described some examples of aircraft missions common to its DOI customers. Most visible to the general public is the use of aircraft for search and rescue or firefighting and transport of supplies to support these operations. Other lesser known examples include the use of helicopters to transport federal inspectors to oil platforms, aircraft used to perform aerial surveys of wildlife, or to observe the condition of the country's national forests.

While the NBC-AM owns aircraft, the agency contracts extensively with private entities that provide aircraft and aviation support staff. Representatives of the Aviation Division describe the use of three primary types of contracts: Aircraft Rental Agreements, Exclusive Use Contracts, and Call When Needed (CWN).

NBC-AM exclusively uses negotiated procurements that consider, at a minimum, Past Performance, Contractor Experience, Aircraft Capability and Price as significant evaluation factors. The expectations of contractor' abilities to perform the job in the most effective, efficient, and safe manner are extremely high. That means that contractors must have had similar experiences, performed them exceptionally well, providing an appropriate aircraft, at a cost effective price.

Aviation Management is also pursuing contracts to support aircraft activities for agencies outside of DOI such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Aviation Management coordinates extensively with the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), based in Boise, Idaho. Wildland fire aviation includes a variety of aircraft and operations. Helicopters are used to drop water, transport crews, reconnaissance, infrared, and deliver resources to the fireline. Fixed-wing aircraft include smokejumper aircraft, air tactical platforms, Single Engine Airtankers (SEATs), large airtankers, and large transport aircraft. These aircraft play a critical role in supporting firefighters on the ground.

"Many aircraft used by the government are for missions that require some kind of specialty", says John "Bud" Walters, Aviation Safety Compliance Specialist, Alaska Region. Safety is of utmost concern to NBC-AM. In these situations, there is significant interface between vendors and other emergency response entities operating in the air and on the ground, so safety training is extremely important.

NBC-Aviation Management continues to stay informed and trained in the latest aircraft and aviation technology to provide the best service to its customers. Current trends in aviation have required knowledge and involvement in unmanned aerial aircraft, composites, and intimate involvement with Automated Flight Following (AFF).



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