Colorado: bill introduced to provide firefighting aircraft

Two state senators in Colorado have introduced a bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 164, that would authorize the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) to acquire helicopters and air tankers for the newly created agency.

For the 2014 fire season the bill authorizes the acquisition by lease or contract of up to three helicopters, and in 2015 up to four “large aircraft”, presumably fixed wing air tankers. If they obtain three helicopters, one must be capable of “command and control” and another would be a Type 1 heavy ship that would have rappel ability and could carry up to 18 passengers. The air tankers must be capable of night flying operations.

The bill was introduced by President of the Senate Morgan Carroll and Senator Steve King on March 21, 11 days before the CFAC Director Paul Cooke is due to release a report on April Fools Day that would recommend the direction the new agency should take.

The bill that created the CFAC last year did not appropriate funds to operate the agency or acquire aircraft. The new bill just introduced does not yet specify a monetary amount, but it will be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note attachment and then sent to the Joint Budget Committee for recommendations on funding.

If the final version of the bill includes funding, getting it past Governor John Hickenlooper could be a challenge. He was quoted by the Durango Herald as expressing the belief that farmers and ranchers should be the first line of defense in fighting wildfires. However, the fact that one of the cosponsors of the bill is the President of the Senate is a sign that it has a chance of passing the legislature, and perhaps even overriding a veto.

12 thoughts on “Colorado: bill introduced to provide firefighting aircraft”

  1. This does not look like the best written bill. I can understand the need/desire to have state operated aircraft, but why are they trying to reinvent the wheel? A type 1 rappel ship? What aircraft are out there that can meet this? (Seriously, I can only think of a few, and some of them would be hard to lay hands on). Why not create a standard helicopter program? Night flying tankers? That sounds all bad! Very expensive, very dangerous, and not something a state like CO should be jumping into.

    1. At a minimum why don’t the State Fire folks put out a CWN Helicopter contract solicitation? Realizing the few operators that are in CO or even relatively nearby they may not get a quick response but it can’t hurt to have the ability to call up an aircraft in the case that the Fed ships will be not available either.

  2. There are several helicopter platforms that could serve as “Type 1”, but a genuine risk vs. gain analysis would hopefully be completed before it actually was contracted as a rappel ship…. an out of ground effect hover with that many firefighters on board… not too high on many firefighters risk acceptance “meter”.

    Night flying airtankers….. not even on the risk acceptance chart in this decade.

    1. Ken, I agree completely. An HOGE situation with that many souls on board, at the very high density altitudes and temps that are typical of CO in the summer….if there is even an aircraft out there that can do it, I wouldn’t want to be on it. And for the same money, they could easily have 3-4 Super 205s.

      1. I agree with both of you. A Type 1 heavy is more of an extended incident machine in my opinion. Putting 18 people in a ship in the mountains is begging for a Carson debacle all over again.
        It is a bad scenario having politicians making aerial firefighting decisions with limited knowledge in aviation.

        1. I can understand and justify the need for a type 1 helicopter in the water dropping capacity. In the right scenario’s it can be an effective IA tool. I could even see it being a night ship(I think the USFS should have gone that route, having seen their type 2 drop at night…well I’m not really sure it’s worth the risk). I did the math on 4 type 2’s on 120 day contract, @ 6K a day, 1.5K a flight hour for 200 flight hours a piece and it comes out to roughly 4.1 million. One sky crane with the same flight hours would be be roughly 2.7 million. That’s all before they even start looking at tankers

        2. LTP I also agree a Type 1 heavy is a great asset (depending on which T-1 you use) they may not be readily available as the USDA/ USFS has a difficult time securing enough of these as well.
          I will say from experience a Bell UH-1H/703 or 205A1 often times can deliver close to if not more water than an S-61 with a tank and snorkel in these altitudes and given water sources. I also understand Govt. seems to have issues with the taboo “Restricted Category Aircraft” but I will say they make great IA water delivery platforms.

  3. I can see where this is going. The State will turn this into a money eating operation. Large FW Tanker? Not necessarily a proven IA platform and certainly a dangerous concept at night. Fires driven by wind in mountain terrain don’t mix well with LAT’s
    9 million? Why not utilize 3-4 Type 2 helicopters and spread them out as needed for IA. This would be closer to 3-4 million annually including historical flight hours math.

      1. Mudslinger,

        I worded that poorly. I know they are “proven” IA tools. I just don’t believe the VLATS are suited for the mountains in and around communities that are scattered all over the Colorado front range in particular.

  4. Wow

    I would not even dream about Type I ships and rappel ships until I had a VERY FIRM grasps of getting the basics of reliable Type II and Type III ships and the related costs of those before I even broached any of the ideas here.

    Hell, you got a State, like the one I am in and they are just beginning to spell airplane and helicopters, let alone dreamin and funding large ships.

    Jeepers, give folks ideas for stuff they can barely fund themselves and train for………….that is the risk there………let alone worrying about Carson

  5. Night fixed wing tanker ops? It can be challenging enough during the day.

    Clearly the proposals made here were done for political means, by those with no knowledge or understanding of fire operations, and no apparent effort to learn.

    I’m all for states contracting fire assets; I’ve had some great work for various state agencies. I look forward to more. The proposal by Colorado, however, may have required more advance research.

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