Forest Service cancels contract for scooper air tankers

The cancellation became effective for fiscal year 2018 which began October 1, 2017.

Air tanker 261

Above: Air Tanker 261, a CL-415, at Medford, Oregon August, 2016. Photo by Tim Crippin.

(Originally published at 3:30 p.m. MDT November 29, 2017)

The U.S. Forest Service has cancelled the contract it had with Aero-Flite for two CL-415 air tankers. The company was awarded an exclusive use contract in 2016 for two of the scooper aircraft for five years.

USFS spokesperson Jennifer Jones said the cancellation occurred in September of this year, but a source familiar with the Aero-Flite operation told us it was not effective until the end of the Mandatory Availability Period (MAP) which is *December 6th, 2017. After that date the Aero-Flite CL-415’s can only be used on a Call When Needed contract, if they are available when the need arises. A total of four CL-415’s are on CWN contracts.

The Forest Service also cut back in 2017 on the number of Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use contracts, reducing them from 34 to 28.  And in June they cancelled the solicitation issued November 18, 2016 for the acquisition of one to seven new multi-engine air tankers. It was thought by some that this procurement would spend the $65 million appropriated by Congress in December, 2014 “for the purpose of acquiring aircraft for the next-generation airtanker fleet to enhance firefighting mobility, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety…”.

The cost of the 1,600-gallon Aero-Flite aircraft were very high. The daily availability rate was $42,285 with an hourly rate of $13,299. That daily rate was higher than all of the 21 large air tankers on contract, including the DC-10’s which carry up to 11,600 gallons. And only two large air tankers had a higher hourly rate — one of the DC-10’s and the USFS/Coast Guard C-130.

Jones told us that one of the reasons for the reduction in aerial firefighting aircraft was a lack of funding:

The U.S. Forest Service’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget does not include funding for Exclusive Use Water Scoopers. The U.S. Forest Service is providing the appropriate mix of aviation assets (Airtankers, water scoopers, helicopters, etc.) for wildfire suppression within available funding.

Congress has not approved a budget this fiscal year which began October 1, 2017. The federal agencies are operating on a continuing resolution which expires December 8, 2017. The budget proposed by the current administration included the reduction in the scoopers. Congress may or may not go along with the Executive Branch’s proposal.

Our calls and emails to Aero-Flite were not returned at the time this was published.

*We corrected the effective date of the cancellation of the contract from October 1, 2017 to December 6, 2017. 

6 thoughts on “Forest Service cancels contract for scooper air tankers”

  1. Is anyone really surprised, the daily availability was astronomical + the hourly, Armored cars were carrying the profits away to buy the second group.

  2. Do the math, for one 415 you could get 10 to 12 AT-802 Fire Bosses (800 gallons, but they usually carry more like 600-750 as fuel burns off, but the 415’s are probably not going full 1600 early in a fuel cycle either). Basically an entire squadron with 5 or 6 the gallons for the same cost. The 415 is not cost effective, at all.

    1. Ok lets not start this conversation. The fire boss is a fire boss, CL-415 is CL-415 the difference is only 1 of them is purpose built skimmer operating in North America. They both have a place in aerial firefighting.

    2. I think “600-750” gallons is the absolute max a Fireboss could carry – at the end of its fuel cycle. Published numbers aren’t supported by actual performance observations.
      Ordinarily I’d disagree strongly with the “CL-415 is not cost effective” statement, but at those rates, it’s tough to argue otherwise. It’s in danger of pricing itself out of contention, much like a certain four-engined flying boat has done. I wonder which FS manager approved such a contract in the first place.
      Assuming less-obscene availability & operating rates, I’d take a gaggle of 415s/215Ts over double or even triple the number of Fireboss any day.

      1. No worry north of the border friends. Your Quebec brothers are supplying San Diego City and LA County with 415s. Perhaps they can supply the USFS with a less expensive option. Ahhh….. who needs purpose built NEW airtankers anyhow? Let’s modify old airliners and military aircraft. We don’t want to interrupt history repeating itself.

        1. Easy for Canada to supply cheap aircraft when it’s from a government program.
          And from someone who works in the field, you can’t compare a fire boss to a scooper. They are different machines.
          And certainly can’t compare a scooper to a retardant machine with out looking at price per gallon of product delivered.
          Put a scooper on a fire next to a lake and that airplane can deliver a lot of loads of water in that hour, let’s just say 20 loads for a safe conservative number. In that time a FS next gen Tanker will deliver….3 loads? Of course that depends on distance to the Tanker base. And that retardant ship requires a whole Tanker base to operate, along with the full contingent of employees to operate that Tanker base and the cost of retardant. So when you look at water scooping planes (fire boss or scooper) don’t forget about the cost of operating a Tanker base to supply the retardant ship and the fact it drops far fewer loads.
          Not trying to bash retardant aircraft at all, they are an amazing tool and very important.

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