Farm bill allows “leasing” of 5 air tankers

A provision in the farm bill (H.R.2642) passed by the House on Wednesday authorized the U.S. Forest Service to “establish a large airtanker and aerial asset lease program”, allowing the agency to “enter into a multiyear lease contract for up to five aircraft that meet the criteria described in the Forest Service document entitled `Large Airtanker Modernization Strategy‘ and dated February 10, 2012, for large airtankers”. That 2012 strategy stated that the next generation of large airtankers would have a 3,000 to 5,000 gallon capacity and would be turbine powered. These are the specifications of the seven next-gen air tankers that received contracts in 2013. The USFS has been contracting for large air tankers for decades. So, we were confused about the purpose of this language in the farm bill, placed there by two Senators from Colorado, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall. It seemingly allows for what the USFS does routinely, but does not appropriate any additional funds.

We checked with the U.S. Forest Service to try to understand if there was an intended difference between the routine contracting for air tankers that has been going on for decades and this new “leasing” language. We received the following, uh, explanation from their Washington, DC office:

The language in the Farm Bill clarifies our existing authority to lease up to five airtankers annually. Depending on our budget resources, this authority may be useful. At present, the Forest Service is relying on next generation airtanker contracts and the seven C-130 planes transferred in the Defense Appropriations Bill to modernize the fleet as we retire the legacy airtankers in the coming years.

That certainly clears that up.

We reached out to the offices of Senators Bennet and Udall, and received the following from James D. Owens, Press Secretary for Senator Udall:

The United States Forest Service is allowed to acquire large air tankers in two ways: (1) as surplus from other federal agencies or (2) contracting. The provision that Senator Udall successfully included in the Farm Bill gives the Forest Service a third, more flexible option to acquire air tankers, i.e. leasing.

“Leasing” might involve renting the air tankers without pilots, and possibly without a maintenance agreement. We have a hard time understanding why the USFS would want to become involved in that type of situation. They are going to have a hard enough time arranging for the operation and maintenance of the 15 Sherpas and 7 C-130Hs recently acquired from the military and the Coast Guard  — aircraft which they will own.

The bill is now in the Senate. The White House says President Barack Obama will sign it if it reaches his desk.

8 thoughts on “Farm bill allows “leasing” of 5 air tankers”

  1. Well well well

    Maybe a very poor way of leasing “power by the hour” as many aircraft engine companies are doing with the airlines………

    I am sure the USFS will try this with the States and cooperators such as Mexico and Austrailia……could start some conspiracy theories cuz God knows, the USFS is surely looking for ways to defer the costs of those ships and even if they are in disarray in DC about how they are going to parcel out assignments…..Too bad these aircraft these are not owned by the DoD anymore, because I am sure there would have been limitations of flying these aircraft outside the US. You know ….. Sort of like the 1990’s debacle of C130’s being used by the CIA and monkey business of the WO -FAM in the 1990’s

    Now that the USFS “owns” these aircraft, do not think for a moment anyone has learned from history….this all could happen again…only with the USFS running herd on the aircraft program…….a reason these aircraft should be have heavy oversight by both Congress and the taxpaying public, especially after all that CWB and retanking project required by the DoD to accomplish because, well, really, the USFS needed someone to tote the bill for the initial introduction to this program….

    Make no mistake…they are trying to find ways, by ideas floated around by folks like this out here in the aviation world, who have had to figure out ideas to save a nickel……

    Let the conspiracy theories begin…….just remember where you read it…

    You read here first on Bill’s site…Fireaviation.com

    1. I was living in small coastal community on the southern Oregon coast when the CIA?USFS? thing was at its apex. The locals thought I worked for the CIA There were people who would pull their children away if i was met on the
      street. No one would talk to me in the Stores, I loved it…

  2. Lets see. If you lose the protest of the Neptune award what do you do? You find a different path in which to do it. Thats all this is if I read it right. It flys in the face of the Next Gen contractors and contracts provisions. It probably deserves a criminal investigation and jail time for someone. IMHO

  3. Bill: Perhaps you didn’t realize that in the 90’s those contracted aircraft were “off contract”. During that time They pretty much thought they could do what they want, and being privately owned most likely could, similarly to what contracted helos do off season. Also, remember that during all of the scandal surrounding air tankers overseas, at least 1 FS employee went to jail, as much more was happening behind the scenes.

    1. If I recall right the P3’s and C-130’s were supposed to be used for firefighting and other resources type of operations only, not hauling freight or other mysterious type of cargo overseas or domestically.

  4. Perhaps some of those “contracted” aircraft …..military anyway, possibly were FEPP aircraft, like some fire equipment, probably required some Fed And State monitoring to meet DoD requirements of the FEPP program.

    I would imagine that was to limit the monkey business that was exhibited by the Agency (USFS) and some individuals who thought they were correctly interpreting those rules, playing fat and loose with them.

    I would imagine that is why one individual and the USFS has such a stained background and hopefully they have learned their lesson…or not

    By not being ready, and having plan for these aircraft surely indicates the USFS leadership and all in WO -FAM still do not have a clue 20 years, hell, 60 years later, they still haven’t mastered the current issue of LAT/ HAT.

    Again, this program is in some serious need of oversight already and since it’s taxpayer dollars….these folks are both not above the law and demonstrating the ability to pull shenanigans with those said taxpayer dollars, especially with their track record and their ability to manage the land and facilities at hand that taxpayers have also spent money on.

  5. Lease vs. Contract

    Contracted aircraft can be called back or “activated” under contract extensions or availabilty clauses.

    Leased aircaft most likely would be through companies that didn’t get awarded exclusive use contracts and “cleans up” the previous practice of bypassing U.S. companies and bringing in Canadian airtankers as a “surge capacity”.

  6. Just wondering out loud. With consideration now (assuming Farm Bill passage) given to leasing, could USFS create a long-term lease for the Ex-AU P3’s, bring things up to snuff (many, many $$$$$ I understand) & add them to the new now C-130H-based USFS LAT fleet? This might give a handsome return to the new P3 owner’s without them having to be a contractor under the standard arrangements. Just wondering!!!

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