Arizona Congressman Calls For Even Faster Action
The FAA Tuesday said yes to a request from the US Forest Service
to inspect 33 grounded aerial firefighting tankers grounded last
week to see if any can be returned for service. But for one Arizona
congressman, that's not good enough.
Rep. JD Hayworth (R-AZ) wants President Bush to authorize the
FAA to actually rule on whether the grounded tankers can fly
firefighting missions once again.
The Arizona Republic quotes Hayworth, who was obviously rattled
by the "Diamond" fire, 45 miles north of Phoenix. The flames came
within a quarter-mile of Sunflower (AZ). And fire season isn't even
supposed to be in full-swing yet.
"This is just a foretaste of what the summer may hold, and we've
got to bring all our assets to bear on this. Fires are burning, and
you've got to pull all the fire alarms," said Hayworth.
Hayworth and other members of the Arizona congressional
delegation were highly critical of the Forest Service's abrupt
decision to ground the 33 tankers. The agency said it did so after
three fatal accidents between 1994 and 2002, where stress fractures
caused the wings to fold. Those that were grounded are between 47
and 60 years old.
The Forest Service said last week that it would use firefighting
helicopters and smaller aircraft to battle wildfires. Hayworth says
those aircraft won't be able to do as effective a job as the
Although the FAA has agreed to facilitate the emergency
inspections, it gave no indication of when they'll start or how
long they might take -- another reason for Hayworth and company to
"There's some reason to be hopeful," said Rep. Greg Walden
(R-OR). "But I'd hate to get people's hopes up that 33 will be back
up in the air."
FAA spokesman Les Dorr pointed out another problem in his
interview with the Republic. It only has jurisdiction over civilian
aircraft. "What we can do is help the Forest Service and private
industry to develop the inspections and maintenance programs they
need to fly these planes safely," he said.
There are other issues that the FAA will inherit when it
inspects the aircraft. Many of the former military aircraft have
spotty maintenance records -- in other words, there are gaps in the
maintenance logs that can't simply be dismissed. Combine that with
the fact that aerial fire bombardment puts as much or more stress
on the aircraft as they would otherwise have sustained over their
lifetimes -- as much as ten times the amount of stress put on an
aircraft flying a civilian passenger or cargo profile.
As the controversy rages and the fallout over the Forest Service
decision to ground those 33 tankers continues to swirl around
Washington (DC), the companies that own those aircraft are sitting
on pins and needles, hoping against hope that someone will reverse
If it stands, says Matt Ziomek, who owns nine of the grounded
tankers, "It'll break us."
Ziomek, whose three companies are based in Kingman (AZ) and in
other states, figures he has about 45 days before the bottom falls
out. "We own them. We crew them. We insure them. We fix them when
they break. This is what we do, aerial firefighting. We don't do
other types of flying. It's 100 percent of our income. Now, it's
like we've been fired."