The U.S. Forest Service has recently posted multiple solicitations or Requests for Information (RFI) for fixed wing and rotor wing firefighting aircraft — Next Generation air tankers, scooping air tankers, various call when needed aircraft, helicopters, and one for the purchase of a new air tanker.
Purchase of a new air tanker
An RFI has been issued for the “potential” purchase of a new, turbine-powered, multi-engine turboprop aircraft with a payload of at least 34,000 pounds. It would be used as an air tanker, and for the transport of cargo and personnel, according to the RFI. Likely, the announcement is a response to the $65 million the USFS received in this year’s budget for the purchase of a new air tanker.
Since a requirement is that it haul cargo and personnel in addition to dropping retardant, this restricts it, as far as aircraft types being used in wildland fire today, to a C-130-type or the new civilian version of the aircraft, the LM-100J which is expected to sell for about $65 million. Coulson’s C-130H has a 3,500-gallon retardant tank that can be easily removed to haul cargo.
However, the LM-100J is not configured for carrying passengers, since it will not have a flush toilet or sound-deadening and temperature-controlling insulation blankets used on C-130s. If the USFS wants to use an agency-owned aircraft for hauling passengers, a better choice would be the 22 other aircraft soon to be added to the fleet — seven C-130Hs the USFS is receiving from the Coast Guard, or the 15 Sherpa C-23Bs transferred from the military.
The reply due date on the RFI is March 20, 2015.
Contracts for next generation air tankers
The USFS issued a solicitation for up to seven next generation air tankers. They are seeking aircraft tanked and approved by the Interagency Airtanker Board, furnished with crews, maintenance, and support. It would be a five-year contract with an additional five one-year options.
The aircraft must have a 3,000-gallon retardant capacity. The solicitation states, “Aircraft with less than 3000-gallon dispensing capacity will not be considered”. It is interesting they specified all 3,000 gallons must be “dispensable”. The first BAe-146s provided by Neptune could not adequately dispense all 3,000 gallons, especially on downhill runs.
The minimum cruise speed required is 300 knots (345 mph).
Unlike most previous air tanker contracts, this one specifies seven-day coverage, except six-day coverage is permissible during the first two years, but with a five percent reduction in the daily availability rate. We first advocated seven-day coverage almost a year ago.
Proposals are due on March 24, 2015.
RFI for water scoopers
The USFS is looking for vendors to provide up to two water-scooping amphibious air tankers from 2015 through 2020.
Like the next-gen contract, the USFS expects to begin this contract in a matter of days, weeks, or months after first mentioning it on FBO.gov. That is very optimistic, since the first next-gen contract took 550 days before it was finally awarded.
Here’s a tip. The USFS should get their sh*t together and advertise the solicitation, not the RFI, at least one year before the mandatory availability period. Top quality air tankers, crews, and maintenance personnel can’t be magically produced out of thin air.
Call When Needed aircraft and services
The USFS is seeking information from vendors interested in providing the following types of aircraft or services:
- Approximately 25 turbine engine aircraft with a minimum tank capacity of 2,000 gallons or more.
- Airworthiness and Maintenance Program specific to air tanker dispensing mission.
- Logistics support system to operate throughout the western states.
- Turnkey retardant base to support operations at locations away from established bases.
- A multi-engine support aircraft capable of supporting logistics needs and directing tactical operations for the AT. Sufficient flight crews to provide seven day coverage while in use.
Type 1 and Type 2 helicopters
A solicitation for Type 1 and 2 helicopters closed February 12, 2015.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Greg.