With wildfires already spreading in Alberta, one air tanker company is raising the alarm on cuts to the province’s fire suppression budget.
Paul Lane, the vice president of Air Spray, said the company’s contract was cut by 25 per cent in the recent budget.
“The province has reduced the operating contracts, for not just us but the other air tanker operator, from 123 days to 93 days,” he said.
“Effectively that will mean that all the air tanker assets in Alberta will come up contract by August 16. The province has no guarantee of availability after that period of those air tanker assets.”
The province reduced the overall wildfire suppression budget by about $15 million.
Premier Rachel Notley said the budget reflects base levels of funding and that emergency funds will kick in if needed for more fire suppression.
“All that happened is a high level of expenditure engaged last year because of the high level of fires was reduced back to the normal amount,” she said. ..
Four of the water scoopers made practice drops on Tuesday.
The Chico ER has an article about four of Air Spray’s 802F Fire Boss air tankers making training drops at Black Butte Lake prior to be deployed around the western United States. You can access the article HERE, which has a gallery of photos.
Air Spray, which is headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, has had a facility at the Chico, California airport since 2012, where they are converting BAe-146 airliners into air tankers. They also work on their single engine air tankers there.
Two Single Engine Air Tankers operated by Air Spray and contracted to the state of Oregon dropped 195,906 gallons of retardant in 2015. That is about a fourth of the 838,000 gallons dropped by all air tankers working for the state this year. The two SEATs were primarily based in Prineville.
Below is an excerpt from an article in The Bulletin:
…The planes were part of a $5 million program to beef up the firefighting fleet in Oregon this past year. The agency was able to move the small tankers around the state when needed. Over the course of the fire season, they reloaded in John Day, Medford, Roseburg and The Dalles. But primarily they flew in and out of Prineville and Redmond, carrying 71,784 gallons of retardant from Prineville and 48,977 from Redmond.
Contracted with the state, the planes that flew out of Prineville belong to Air Spray, a Chico, California, company. Built by Texas-based Air Tractor, they cost $1.7 million each.
The video shows multiple retardant drops by Air Spray’s Tanker 489, a Lockheed Electra, on a fire in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park in British Columbia (map).
Here is the description provided by the videographer:
“Published on 4 Jul 2015
Fire season has arrived in the Kootenays! This video was taken July 3rd, 2015 showing the new small forest fire near Kokanee Creek Provincial Park towards Kokanee Glacier. This video features many of the aircraft involved in battling the blaze including water bombers, air tankers and helicopters with bambi buckets.
–The aircraft featured in this video include:
–Air Spray Lockheed L-188 Electra Airtanker
–Air Spray Twin Commander 690 Birddog C-FZRQ
–Cessna Caravan Birddog
–Selkirk Mountain Helicopters Aerospatiale AS 350 B-2 C-GSKL with water bucket
–Air Spray Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss Amphibious Tanker Plane
This was my first time ever seeing aircraft fighting a wildfire in person and it was truly an impressive sight. It was especially cool seeing the massive Electra turboprop diving down into the valley near Kokanee Creek Park and dumping fire retardant onto the flames.”
This video of an MD-87 dropping on a fire in Laguna Canyon in southern California on July 3, 2015 is shot from pretty far away but you can clearly see the retardant and after the drop, the air tanker as it exits the area closer to the camera. It looked like an excellent drop. I could not make out the tanker number.
BONUS VIDEO #2, added July 9, 2015
I found this video today, and it looks like the same air tanker, the MD-87, making another drop on the fire in Laguna Canyon. It’s interesting how at 0:48 it disappears into a canyon while making the drop.
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:
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.
Air Spray Airtankers posted this photo on their Facebook page, with the caption, “Fresh off the production line, N-349AS is the latest wheeled 802 added to our fleet. It will go out on contract with the State of Oregon Forest Service this summer.”
The Red Deer County web site has an article about Air Spray — an air tanker company that has bases in Alberta at Red Deer and at Chico in northern California. Below is the beginning of the article.
“Red Deer Airport – Alberta’s Air Spray Makes Its International Mark
The largest tenant at Red Deer Airport, Air Spray is making an international difference for its work in fire suppression across Canada and in the United States. Despite the importance of their role, however, its specialized nature means the company’s work – and its astounding growth – often pass unremarked on in the general community.
Since the mid-1970s, Air Spray has operated out of Red Deer Airport; its original business of fire suppression has evolved into specialized pilot training and developing new aircraft for fire suppression. These business lines ensure steady growth for the company throughout Canada and into the USA, but the Edmonton-based company runs all their aviation operations from their Red Deer Airport location.
“Air Spray is primarily a forest fire suppression company – during the fire season, we work throughout Alberta, BC, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and California,” says Paul Lane, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Air Spray…”
Air Spray has received a new Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) and will be getting a second one in a few weeks. The Air Tractor 802 holds 800 gallons of fire retardant and can get into narrow canyons that are more of a challenge for the larger 3,000 to 4,000 gallon “next generation” air tankers.
Air Spray has a contract for one of them with the State of Oregon and will be seeking employment for the other one.
They have a mobile retardant base installed on a large trailer which will be heading to Oregon with the AT 802.
Their effort to convert two BAe-146 jet-powered airliners into air tankers is going slower than they expected. When we visited their project at the Chico, California airport in March and talked with Ravi Saip (Director of Maintenance/General Manager) and Paul Lane (Vice President and Chief Financial Officer) they said they hoped to have most of the work done by the end of the summer, then they would begin the testing, tweaking, improving, and certification phases. In an article in the Chico ER, Mr. Saip was quoted as saying they now expect one of the BAe-146s to be ready for the 2015 fire season, and “They took longer to modify than we expected”. Other air tanker companies converting BAe-146s have found that much of the aircraft’s infrastructure in the belly has to be worked around and/or relocated in order to install an internal tank and door system as they are doing.