Forest Service to reduce the number of Type 1 helicopters on fire contracts

Columbia BV-107
(Last Updated On: March 9, 2017)

Above: Columbia BV-107 at Custer, SD July 31, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 7:12 p.m. MST March 3, 2017; updated with more details at 10:43 a.m. MST March 4, 2017)

The U.S. Forest Service is reducing from 34 to 28 the number of large Type 1 helicopters that are on exclusive use (EU) wildland firefighting contracts.

On February 26, 2016 the USFS issued exclusive use contracts to 13 companies for a total of 34 Type 1 firefighting helicopters. The contracts were initially effective for one year, through April 30, 2017, with the possibility of three one-year renewal option periods.

Six of those helicopters are not being renewed. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said those six ships are two K-MAX BK-1200’s, two Boeing Vertol 107’s, and two CH-54A’s (Air-Crane type helicopters).

Siller Helicopters CH-54A H-781 fire
A Siller Helicopters CH-54A (H-781); a Type 1 helicopter. Photo by Siller.

This list shows the helicopters that are being cut along with the administrative base and operator for each aircraft.

  1. Prineville, Oregon (BK-1200) Swanson Group Aviation
  2. Helena, Montana (BK-1200) Central Helicopters
  3. Hamilton, Montana (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
  4. Custer, South Dakota (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
  5. Lancaster, California (CH-54A) Siller Helicopters
  6. Minden, Nevada (CH-54A) Helicopter Transport Services

Type 1 helicopters are frequently moved around depending on fire danger and incident activity and are often not at their home base.

Type 1 helicopters are the largest that are used for firefighting and can carry from 700 to 2,500 gallons of water. They can be extremely effective in assisting firefighters on the ground if they are prepositioned in order to be quickly available on initial attack. They are also very helpful in support of fire crews on extended attack when building line with hose lays or hand tools, allowing ground personnel to work closer to the fire’s edge. Reducing this capability could allow fires to grow larger or escape initial attack.

Swanson K-MAX helicopter
Swanson K-MAX helicopter at Custer, SD July 18, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Ms. Jones explained the agency’s rationale for cutting the number of Type 1 helicopters:

At this time, the agency has determined 28 to be the appropriate number of Type 1 helicopters on EU contracts given current types and numbers of other aircraft in the fleet. This is in line with the 2012 Airtanker Modernization Strategy.

She said “Up to 30 additional Type 1 helicopters” are on Call When Needed contracts, which includes the six that no longer have EU contracts. CWN aircraft can’t be depended upon to always be available at no cost, waiting for the phone to ring and a contract to be activated. They will seek other employment when not on an EU contract. The daily and hourly cost for CWN ships are usually much higher.

K-MAX
A Central Copters K-MAX Type 1 helicopter at Salmon, Idaho, July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

13 thoughts on “Forest Service to reduce the number of Type 1 helicopters on fire contracts”

  1. This is not really a mystery. President Trump is proposing a 10% across-the-board hit to every federal civilian agency in FY18, the Forest Service is not immune and Fire & Aviation Management spending certainly won’t be exempt from cuts. AQM can’t make year-long contracts which would spend money that won’t be there in FY18.

    1. I doubt the USFS is thinking that far ahead…especially since no actual cuts have been made yet.

      I wonder if they are just going to re-classify the K-Max to a Type II? Maybe the Hawks too?

      1. If you don’t think we’re having to think that far ahead, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. FY18 starts in seven months. There are serious discussions at every level right now trying to figure out what’s not going to be funded.

    1. Russell if you are referring to SEATs could you tell where you got your info from? The info I have is direct from someone within the SEAT program, and it is current from the end February of this year. It is that the new contracts have not even gone to the solicitation stage for the contractors to look at.

        1. CWN helicopters share the same flight rate as exclusive use—the availability rate is MUCH higher. (former 10 year EU helicopter manager).

  2. M Said: ” the SEAT program, and it is current from the end February of this year. It is that the new contracts have not even gone to the solicitation stage for the contractors to look at.”

    Does anyone know the status of the SEAT contracting process as of April 2017?
    With the cost pressures mentioned herein, wouldn’t expansion of the SEAT program be a logical direction…?

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