The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group issued a memo on June 16, 2014 that they hope clarifies which air tankers will be dispatched when filling an order. This is apparently in response to issues that developed at the incident level, air tanker bases, dispatch offices, or coordination centers after adding the next generation air tankers into the mix. The short version of the policy is in the second paragraph of the memo:
All [large air tankers] LATs and [very large air tankers] VLATs shall be dispatched in rotation (first in/first out), regardless of the location of the incident…
Following that statement, eight exceptions were listed, such as, is a lead plane or Aerial Supervision Module (ASM) required and on scene, are there special requirements at the fire, and MAFFS are put at the bottom of the rotation at the beginning of each day. Another exception is:
Airtankers are returning to contract availability after day(s) off, in which case these airtankers begin at the end of the rotation line at their assigned base. Airtankers that work a seven day schedule do not rotate out of their position.
Coulson’s C-130Q, for example, does not have days off, and works seven days a week. Most, if not all, of the other large air tankers have scheduled days off. When 10 Tanker Air Carrier submitted their DC-10 bid for the next generation air tanker contract, they also included a proposal to not have days off, but the U.S. Forest Service did not select that option.
The first quote seems to say that no matter the relative location of the fire and the aircraft, the next air tanker in rotation will be dispatched even if it is 2,000 miles away. We checked with a person closely involved with the issue and received clarification about the clarification memo. In almost all cases, we were told, the air tankers to be considered for dispatching will be selected from those at the top of the rotation at the air tanker base nearest the fire.
The entire memo in MS Word format can be downloaded by clicking HERE.
It also provided information about who pays for the daily availability of the air tankers:
Daily availability for all LATs and VLATs on the Exclusive Use contract with the Forest Service is paid by the Forest Service Washington Office and is not charged to the using agency/fire. The using agency/fire is charged only for the cost of retardant and the flight rate. Additionally, as the costs of using the VLATs are similar to LATs, cost alone is not sufficient reason for not using the VLAT in rotation. Reference the flight rate chart for more information.
Below, is a table that was included in the memo:
The memo also referred to the document issued on May 1 that was in response to the request in the report for the Yarnell Hill Fire about how to use very large air tankers.