Forest Service cancels contract for scooper air tankers

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

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. 

European Commission proposes to improve ability to respond to civilian disasters

“rescEU”, if approved, would establish a reserve force of air tankers and other firefighting equipment

Above: file photo of air tankers, mostly water scoopers, at Dryden (Ontario, Canada) Regional Airport in June, 2015 before they were dispersed around the province to deal with the rising number of wildfires. Photo by Chris Sherwin.

(Originally published at 11:01 a.m. MDT November 24, 2017)

The proposal would complement national assets and would be managed by the European Commission in order to support countries hit by disasters such as floods, forest fires, earthquakes and epidemics. Alone in 2017, over 200 people were killed by natural disasters in Europe and over one million hectares of forest have been destroyed.

President Jean-Claude Juncker said:

Europe can’t be on the side-lines when our Member States suffer from natural disasters and need help. No country in Europe is immune to natural disasters which have sadly become the new normal. When a disaster strikes, I want the European Union to offer more than condolences.

“rescEU” would create an EU civil protection response reserve of civil protection assets to assist Member States in responding to disasters, when national capacities are overwhelmed. rescEU would include assets, such as firefighting aircraft and water pumping equipment, to complement national capacities. All costs and capacities of rescEU would be fully covered by EU financing, with the Commission retaining the operational control of these assets and deciding on their deployment.

In parallel, the Commission would assist Member States to boost their national capacities, by financing the adaptation, repair, transport and operation costs of their existing resources – whereas today only transportation costs are covered. The assets would become part of a shared pool of emergency response resources under the European Civil Protection Pool, and would be made available for deployment when disaster strikes.

So far in 2017 over 200 people have been killed by natural disasters in Europe. Since 1980, as well as the human cost, EU Member States have lost over EUR 360 billion in weather and climate extreme events. In Portugal alone, the direct economic damage of forest fire events between June and September is estimated at close to EUR 600 million, representing 0.34% of Portugal’s Gross National Income.

Since its establishment in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has monitored over 400 disasters and has received over 250 requests for assistance. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism can be activated in response to man-made and natural disasters, but also supports disaster preparedness and prevention.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism includes all EU Member States as well as several other participating states outside the EU, namely, Iceland, Norway, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey. rescEU would be extended to these participating states as a sign of European solidarity.

Report released on landing gear failure on CL-415 in France

There was a mechanical failure while taxiing.

Above: photo of the incident scene, from the report.

(Originally published at 6:55 p.m. MST November 22, 2017)

The French government has released a report about an incident that occurred August 1, 2016 at Ajaccio. As best we can tell from the document, which is in French of course, is that a CL-415 experienced a mechanical failure in the right side landing gear while taxiing and turning left onto a runway before takeoff on a fire mission.  When one of the components broke, the gear partially collapsed, causing the aircraft to tip to the right, coming to rest on the float under the wing tip.

Thankfully the crew was not injured.

The report appears to indicate that the problem was related to a maintenance issue due to a translation error in a technical document.

In the photo above, some of the foam and liquid is probably from a fire engine that can be seen in the photo at the top of this article.

A Kern County FD night-flying helicopter assisted last month on the fires in Northern California

Above: Kern County Fire Department Helicopter 407, a UH-1H. Kern County photo.

Kern County Fire Department (map) has two helicopters, UH-1H’s, outfitted for flying at night to assist firefighters on the ground. One of them assisted on the Tubbs Fire last month, the blaze that eventually destroyed thousands of homes and killed numerous residents.

The Tehachapi News has an article about the Department’s night-flying program. Below is an excerpt.

After the Cedar Fire chewed up hundreds of thousands of acres in 2003, killing 15 people and costing well north of $1 billion, agencies recognized certain policies had to change, and that included implementing night-flying helicopters, said Pat Williams, the Kern County Fire Department’s chief pilot.

Under the FIRESCOPE program, a partnership representing local, rural and metropolitan fire departments, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and federal fire agencies, guidelines were created for night flying.

Helimax CH-47D begins its bushfire season in Australia

Above:  Before it was repainted and shipped to Australia, Helimax’s N948CH, seen in the background here, was photographed in Sacramento March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 11:05 a.m. MST November 16, 2017)

One of Helimax’s CH-47D’s has been shipped to Australia and will be working for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service during their summer bushfire season.

According to the Wollondilly Advertiser, which has photos and more information, it will be working out of Camden, NSW southwest of Sydney (map) using an external water bucket carrying about 2,000 gallons.

An aircraft resembling the Chinook was spotted in a shipping box it shared with one of Coulson’s S-61’s in a photo posted November 3, 2017 by Coulson.

The video below from the Wollondilly Advertiser, shows the Chinook taking off near Camden, NSW.

Helimax CH-47D helicopter
Another one of Helimax’s CH-47D’s photographed by Bill Gabbert March 23, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif.

Lake Mead National Park’s float plane

Lake Mead National Park (@lakemeadnps) distributed this photo yesterday via Twitter with a description:

Thanks to COL Paul Murray @99ABWCC and the team from @NellisAFB for hosting @lakemeadnps and the @NatlParkService at #AviationNation.
Happy 70th birthday @usairforce

12:29 PM – Nov 12, 2017 · Nellis Air Force Base, NV

The “N” number on the aircraft is clever.

A tour of Air Tanker 912

Also known in Australia as Bomber 912, or “Nancy Bird”.

Above: File photo of Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, making a quick orbit over the Indian Canyon Fire to check out the last of two drops the aircraft had just made just after sunset near Edgemont, South Dakota July 17, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Air Tanker 912 is beginning its contract with New South Wales in Australia, working out of Richmond. The NSW Rural Fire Service produced this video featuring pilot Captain R. K. Smithley giving us a tour of the huge 11,600-gallon capacity aircraft. (If you are having trouble seeing the video you can view it at YouTube.

10 Tanker Air Carrier recently renamed the aircraft “Nancy Bird”, honoring a renowned aviatrix in Australia.

Firefighting aircraft on Twitter

Isaac notified us about these videos and photos. Thanks Isaac!