2017 was a busy year for air tankers

In spite of that, the numbers of air tankers and helicopters are being slashed

Above: A water-scooping air tanker, a CL-415, at Sacramento, March 12, 2018.

In our notes from the Aerial Firefighting conference HERE and HERE, we included information about how some air tankers were busier than usual in 2017:

  • Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation, said their air tankers in 2016 averaged 180 hours while working on wildfires. In 2017 that increased to 276 hours each.
  • Rick Hatton of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said each of their three DC-10s averaged about 300 hours on fires in 2017, which is more than usual.
  • Shawna Legarza, the USFS Director of Fire and Aviation, said the two Aero-Flite CL-415 scooping air tankers that were on exclusive use (EU) USFS contracts in 2017 each had over 400 hours of fire flight time.

After we reported the information above, Jason Robinson, the Chief CL-415 pilot for Aero-Flite contacted us to supply more details. He generally  confirmed the numbers reported  by Ms. Legarza and said their two EU and two CWN CL-415’s averaged 410 hours each. In July and August alone the four scoopers flew 1,036 hours. The company brought in extra staffing to provide seven-day coverage and manage pilot fatigue. He said that in 2017, 12 Canadian CL-415’s and CL-215’s worked in California and Montana.

Mr. Robinson said they have operated CL-415’s in Alaska for up to 12 hours a day by double-crewing the aircraft.

Due to a reduction in the federal firefighting budget by the Administration and Congress, there will be no scoopers on the EU list this year. Some are still on a CWN contract, but they may or may not be available if the USFS Calls them When Needed. The large air tankers are being cut from 20 to 13 while the large Type 1 helicopters have been reduced from 34 to 28.

Building Twin Otters, in time-lapse

The production facility for Viking’s Twin Otter Series 400 is seen in time-lapse in this video. Twin Otters have transported many smokejumpers over the last few decades.

I looked, but didn’t see any CL-415’s in the background being built. Viking  bought the rights from Bombardier in 2016 for the scoopers, but to date have not publicly committed to manufacturing more.

CL-415’s scooping water at Castaic Lake

Above:  Air Tanker 260 scoops water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017 . Photo by Robert Schwemmer.

(Originally published at 7:25 p.m. MST December 7, 2017)

Robert Schwemmer shot this video and the photos of water-scooping air tankers as they refilled at Castaic Lake as they were working the Creek Fire in Los Angeles, California. Thanks Robert!

Air Tanker 247
Air Tanker 247 scooping water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017 . Photo by Robert Schwemmer.

T-247 and one other Quebec government scooper are under contract to Los Angeles County, while T-260 and two other Aero-Flite CL-415’s are working on a contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

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. 

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.

Firefighting aircraft on Twitter

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

CL-415 clips a mast while scooping water in France

A video shot northwest of Marseille, France shows a CL-415 water-scooping air tanker clipping a mast on a barge in the Rhône River near the port of Vallabregues August 27, 2017.

Be sure and turn on the sound when watching the video.

Apparently no one was injured and the aircraft landed safely at Nîmes.

Below is a statement from Sécurité Civile that appears to be roughly translated from French:

The wing of the Fire-fighting plane is damaged, it will be unavailable for several weeks, there were projections on two barges, fortunately without making of wounded person. They are experimented and confirmed pilots who knew well the stretch of water. They managed to fly up to the base of Nîmes. The pilot and the co-pilot are shocked, they were suspended as a protective measure and are going to be examined by a specialized doctor who has to make sure that they are in capacity to re-fly.

The image below is a screenshot from the video at the 10-second mark just after the mast was sheared off. We added the yellow circle.

CL-415 broken mast
A screenshot from the video at the 10-second mark just after the mast was sheared off. We added the yellow circle.

More information.

Here is a photo of a very close call in 2016 with another Sécurité Civile air tanker:

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kevin.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.