Unable to fill requests for air tankers increased in 2016

Air tanker unable to fill chart wildfire

In 2016 there was an increase in the percentage of requests for large air tankers that went unfilled, increasing from 10 percent in 2015 which was the lowest since 2009, to 13.4 percent in 2016.

Counting the U.S. Forest Service HC-130H air tanker there was a maximum of 21 large and very large air tankers on exclusive use contracts in 2016. However, the two Erickson MD-87 aircraft were not available for most of the year due to problems with the retardant system. The company claims they have fixed the issue and they should be ready to go this summer. A few other call when needed (CWN) large and very large air tankers were activated for weeks at a time in 2016. Unless new contracts for CWN air tankers are issued that will be effective this year, the number of available air tankers in 2017 should be about the same. A new exclusive use contract is expected to be in effect in 2018.

Tanker 12 Trailhead Fire
Tanker 12 on the Trailhead Fire. A Cobra helicopter is in the background. Photo July 1, 2016 by Matthew Rhodes.

The number of acres burned in the lower 49 states (which excludes Alaska) was virtually the same in 2015 and 2016, with both being pretty close to average. There were also few extended fire sieges involving multiple large fires occurring at the same time that required a high number of air tankers. Having the fires spread out over time minimizes the number of air tanker requests that go unfilled.

wildfire acres per year
The number of acres burned in wildfires in the lower 49 states (excludes Alaska).

Here are some of the Unable to Fill numbers we computed from the data reported by the National Interagency Fire Center for 2016:

  • Type 1 and 2 large air tankers: 13.4%
  • Single Engine Air Tankers: 21.1%
  • Type 1 helicopters: 12.3%
  • Type 2 helicopters: 8.6%
  • Type 3 helicopters: 8.3%

There were only seven requests for MAFFS air tankers, and all were filled.

2 thoughts on “Unable to fill requests for air tankers increased in 2016”

  1. It’s interesting that there are triple the number of single engine air tankers, yet they represented the highest percentage of “unable to fill” requests.

    1. That is because BLM has giving their state aviation managers too much power to control the aircraft in their state. Last year for example the tanker base I was working at had 2 seats on national exclusive use contract which according to the contract they are national resources, however they were never listed as national when they were available, they were only listed as GACC. I watched as call when needed seats over flew our EU seats to go fight fires while ours sat and didn’t get used. I was told that it was the state aviation manager that would not let the aircraft leave the state for a long duration. As an agency employee I don’t see our taxpayers getting the best bang for their buck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *