CAL FIRE adds a DC-10 to their air tanker fleet

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection added a DC-10 air tanker to their fleet on June 27.

Below is a screen shot from the 10 Tanker Air Carrier website.

10 tanker

All three of the company’s DC-10s have been busy in California and Arizona in recent days.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt.

Douglas County, Colorado renews contracts for firefighting aircraft

Douglas County, just south of Denver (map), recently renewed contracts with four fire aviation companies. The agreements are Call When Needed (CWN) and will only be activated when the aircraft are specifically needed.

Three of the contracts are for helicopters, with Rampart Helicopter ServicesHeliQwest International and Trans Aero Ltd. The other is for the 11,600-gallon DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

“Due to the strong possibility of continued dry conditions in and around Douglas County, coupled with the limited air resource availability in the region for the purpose of fighting wildland fire, it is imperative that we have every resource possible available to us,” said the County’s Director of Emergency Management Tim Johnson.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.

Video from DC-10 training in New Mexico

The Albuquerque Journal ran a story today and uploaded a video about last week’s training for the flight crews of the DC-10 air tankers based at the city’s airport.

The gentleman in the video holding the radio is Rick Hatton, President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier. It was shot by Dean Hanson of the Albuquerque Journal.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

LAGUNA PUEBLO – Flying low over scrub and dusty truck trails, the big DC-10 jet dropped a load of water onto a Laguna Pueblo cattle pasture, banked left, grabbed some altitude and disappeared, obscured by the wet cloud left hanging in its wake.

Whoosh!

Five seconds after the plane dropped its load from 200 feet up, the sound of water displacing air murmured over the pale grass, stunted brush and cowpies toward seven observers on the ground.

“You get the temperature down and the humidity up,” Rick Hatton, one of the observers, said as the rumble of the DC-10’s engines receded in the distance. “You get out there early, get it done, get it out, so the fire never gets a name, never gets in the newspaper.”

Hatton, who flew F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bombers for the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, said the company’s DC-10s make things safer for the flight crews as well because they can get more done on fewer flights.

Rick Hatton John Gould
John Gould, (left) 10 Tanker’s Business Development Manager, and Rick Hatton, President and CEO. Photo by Bill Gabbert, from the May, 2014 Large Fire Conference in Missoula.

Interview with Rick Hatton of 10 Tanker Air Carrier

On Tuesday we interviewed Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier. Mr. Hatton talked about the beginnings of the company and their plans for building additional DC-10 air tankers, the largest-capacity tankers currently in service.

CWN contracts awarded for 22 next-gen air tankers

Coulson T-132 grid test
Coulson Aviation’s L-382G during the grid test in early May, 2015.

The U.S. Forest Service announced yesterday that they awarded Call When Needed (CWN) contracts to five companies for a total of 22 next-generation air tankers. Not all of the aircraft exist yet in flyable, modified, inspected, and carded form. In fact, we estimate only about half of them are ready to go now if the phone rang.

The companies receiving the six-year CWN contracts include:

  • Neptune Aviation, 6 BAe-146s
  • Coulson Aviation, 1 Lockheed L-382G
  • Air Spray USA, 4 BAe-146s
  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier, 5 DC-10s
  • Aero Flite, 6 BAe Avro 146 RJ85s

These CWN contracts are in addition to the 14 air tankers currently on Exclusive Use Contracts, and the additional aircraft that could be added, up to seven, when the bidding process that is being protested now is settled. Later this year there could be up to 21 air tankers on exclusive use contracts, plus the CWN aircraft on this contract that was just awarded. Many of the air tankers currently on exclusive use contracts are also listed on the new CWN contract, so there is some duplication.

An exclusive use contract commits an aircraft to working non-stop, except for days off, for an extended period of days, 160, for example.

However on a CWN contract the aircraft may never be used by the USFS. It could sit for years without being activated by the agency. That was one reason the 747 “Supertanker” ceased to exist. It was parked for years on a CWN contract and was not used.

This, of course, can be a very expensive and risky proposition for a private company. They have to decide if they are going to maintain the aircraft in a continuous airworthy condition and hire flight crews and maintenance personnel. The USFS thinks it’s a great deal since they spend nothing if an air tanker is not used. But even if a CWN aircraft had been at one time fully certified, by the time the USFS decides to activate it, the aircraft and the staff to operate it may or may not be ready to fight fire. And the CWN rates are usually much higher than a multi-year exclusive use contract.

Walt Darren, a legendary air tanker pilot who passed away a couple of years ago, suggested that CWN aircraft could be paid a stipend during the fire season even when they are not being used. This would make it a little more palatable for a company to keep an air tanker ready to go.

Ravi Saip, the General Manager and Director of Maintenance for Air Spray at Chico, California, said none of their BAe-146s are fully operational today. They are working on two of them, and hope to have one finished by the end of this fire season. He said most of the work is done on that aircraft, and they are working closely with British Aerospace on the cutouts in the belly through which the retardant will flow. In about two months they hope to begin flight tests, and they still need to get the FAA’s Supplemental Type Certificate and the Interagency AirTanker Board certifications.

Rick Hatton of 10 Tanker told us they have three completed DC-10s. Two are carded and are being used today on fires in California, T-911 and T-912. The third, which replaced and upgraded the older T-910, will retain that tanker number and is waiting for the USFS to issue their certification.

Britt Coulson of Coulson Aviation said they hope their recently converted Lockheed L-382G will be carded by the USFS next week. A civilian version of the C-130, it completed the grid test in early May.

The full list of air tankers receiving CWN contracts is below. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Continue reading “CWN contracts awarded for 22 next-gen air tankers”

Protests delay awards of air tanker contracts

Tanker 101, an MD-87
Tanker 101, an MD-87 operated by Erickson Aero Tanker, during the grid retardant test, January 15, 2014. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. (click to enlarge)

The U.S. Forest Service (FS) had hoped to have as many as seven additional “Next Generation” large air tankers working under contract on May 30, 2015, but protests filed by two companies could push that date back by several months.

The FS first awarded contracts for Next-Gen air tankers in 2013 at the end of a 555-day process that also included protests which delayed the awards. Next-Gen air tankers are required to have capabilities not present in the previous generation of Korean War vintage machines. They must fly faster, be powered by turbine or jet engines, and have a capacity of at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.

Two companies have filed protests about this latest round of potential contracts, Coulson Aviation and Erickson Aero Tanker. The protests were lodged with the U.S. Government Accountability Office which has the responsibility of deciding whether the protests have merit, which they are required to do by July 9 for Coulson’s protest and July 17 for Erickson’s. Both companies later amended their original complaints, which complicates the procedure for the GAO, so it is unlikely that anything will be decided much before those mid-July due dates.

No contracts have been awarded yet, nor has the FS announced what their intentions are about the contracts. The two companies are protesting the terms of the solicitation which was first posted on February 19, 2015, and then amended five times. Responses from bidders were due on April 9, 2015.

In researching this article we reached out to Erickson Aero Tanker and Coulson Aviation, but did not receive replies by our publication deadline.

When the awards were announced for the first round of Next-Gen contracts in May, 2013, Neptune Aviation did not receive one of the seven contracts and filed a protest. A few weeks later Neptune dropped their protest which allowed the FS to finalize the contracts form the other seven air tankers. It was disclosed later that the FS and Neptune had entered into a written agreement under which the agency agreed to award Neptune a sole-source contract for two Next-Gen large airtankers in exchange for Neptune withdrawing its protest.

In December, 2013  the FS awarded the promised sole source contract to Neptune for the two air tankers beginning in 2014. The estimated minimum value of the contract was $141,000,000 and had a base period of four years with the possibility of adding five more. If those five years were tacked on it would could have brought the value of the contract up to almost half a billion dollars.

The basis for awarding the non-competitive sole source contract to Neptune, according to the FS, was that the company was in danger of going out of business. The agency used the industrial “mobilization exception” to the requirement to conduct a competitive procurement. Their rationale was that without Neptune, the FS could not field an adequate number of air tankers. In March, 2014 we wrote a very detailed article about the sole source award and how it developed.

That sole source contract was protested by three companies, Coulson Aviation, 10 Tanker Air Carrier, and Minden Air Corp. The GAO upheld the protest, writing in their March 2014 decision that the sole-source award to Neptune in exchange for Neptune’s withdrawal of an earlier protest, was not a reasonable basis for the agency’s action. GAO also disputed the claim that Neptune was in danger of going under, and recommended that the FS reimburse Coulson, 10 Tanker, and Minden for their costs of filing and pursuing the protests, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Douglas County, Colorado signs CWN aircraft contracts

Douglas County, just south of Denver (map), signed contracts three weeks ago with three fire aviation companies. The agreements are Call When Needed (CWN) and will only be activated when the aircraft are specifically needed.

Two of the contracts are for helicopters, with HeliQwest International and Trans Aero Ltd. The other is for the 11,600-gallon DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Thanks and a tip of  the hat go out to Bean.