Another air tanker company moves out of California

 

Coulson's T-131 at Reno

Coulson’s Tanker 131 at Reno, April 18, 2014. Photo by Ryan Coulter.

The Coulson Group has moved their air tanker operation from McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California to Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada. This is the second air tanker operator that has moved out of the state in the last six months. In October, 10 Tanker Air Carrier relocated their corporate headquarters from Victorville, California to the airport at Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10 Tanker has two DC-10 air tankers and is converting a third, while Coulson has one C-130 on U.S. Forest Service contract and hopes to acquire another. Coulson expects to have a minimum of 20 employees on their payroll at Reno.

Still left in California is Air Spray, who in 2012 took over a hanger at Chico formerly occupied by Aero Union. The company has a  Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra “Long Liner” air tanker and is converting two BAe-146s into air tankers at the facility. Several employees that formerly worked for Aero Union are now employed by Air Spray at Chico.

 

KTVN Channel 2 – Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Britt, Ryan, Dave, and Scott.

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GAO releases details of air tanker contract protest decision

GAOThe General Accountability Office has released their 23-page decision documenting why the agency sustained the protest filed by three companies over the sole source air tanker contract that the U.S. Forest Service awarded to Neptune Aviation December 12, 2013. The non-competitive contract, worth $141 million to $496 million, specified that Neptune would supply two or more next-generation air tankers, BAe-146s, for the next four to nine years beginning in 2014.

In our previous article about the decision we included the text of a press release issued by the GAO, but this 23-page document provides much more detail.

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GAO sustains protest of air tanker contract

Neptune's Ait Tanker 41

Neptune’s Tanker 41, a BAe-146, at Missoula, August 11, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 3:15 p.m. MT, March 31, 2014; updated at 8:40 a.m. MT April 1, 2014 with the text of a statement released by the GAO, and again at 11:20 a.m. MT April 1, 2014 with a response from the USFS.)

The Government Accountability Office announced today that they sustained the protest filed by three companies over the sole source air tanker contract that the U.S. Forest Service awarded to Neptune Aviation December 12, 2013. The non-competitive contract, worth about $141 million, specified that Neptune would supply two or more next-generation air tankers, BAe-146s, for the next four to nine years beginning in 2014.

A spokesperson for the GAO said their review concluded that the U.S. Forest Service “could not reasonably justify” the non-competitive process used in awarding the contract to Neptune.

The three companies that protested the sole source contract were Coulson Aviation (USA), Inc; 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC; and Minden Air Corp. If only the minimum two air tankers were signed up, the value of the contract would be about $141 million. If the options for five additional tankers were utilized, it would be hundreds of millions.

The protest automatically halted the activation of the sole source contract when it was filed in December.

We asked the USFS for their reaction to the GAO decision, and if other air tankers will be brought on, either by activating options under existing legacy or next-gen contracts, or will additional contracts be pursued? We received the following statement issued by their Washington office Tuesday morning:

The U.S. Forest Service is committed to ensuring that we have all of the resources we need to fight wildland fire and protect the lives and property of the American people. Airtankers are an important part of our efforts and we are currently reviewing the GAO recommendation.

In the protest filed with the GAO, hundreds of pages were submitted, listing dozens of reasons why the three companies felt the sole source contract should be terminated.

The Coulson company argued that on several occasions they told the USFS that they could supply more than the one C-130, but were told that the funding situation was too uncertain to commit more air tankers. Then a few months later, the USFS issued a contract potentially worth at least $141 million.

10 Tanker made similar offers, and in fact had a second DC-10 fully certified and on a call when needed contract that they would have liked to convert to an exclusive use next-gen contract. They also said they are working on retrofitting a third DC-10 which they expect to have ready to go by the end of calendar year 2014.

This was the third USFS air tanker contract that has been officially protested in the last two years. Two of those were sustained by the GAO, the recent sole source contract and the original attempt to issue contracts for next-gen air tankers, while the third, filed by Neptune, was dropped five months before the company received the sole source award in December.

Neptune will have six Korean War vintage P2Vs (2,082 gallons each) and one jet-powered BAe-146 (3,050 gallons) on exclusive use contract this year in what the U.S. Forest Service calls the “legacy” air tanker category. The company expects to have four additional BAe-146s ready to fight fire this year that are not currently on contract.

10 Tanker Air Carrier has one DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker on exclusive use contract and another on a call when needed contract. The company is in the process of retrofitting a third DC-10. They each carry 11,600 gallons of fire retardant.

Coulson has one 3,500-gallon C-130Q on exclusive use contract and hopes to acquire and convert a second C-130.

Minden has a contract for a BAe-146 but it has not yet been tested or approved by the Interagency AirTanker Board.

The complete text of a statement by the GAO about the decision is below. It was written March 31 and released April 1, 2014.

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The following is a statement from GAO regarding today’s decision resolving bid protests filed by Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc., 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC, and Minden Air Corp., B-409356.2 et al., March 31, 2014.

On March 31, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained, or upheld, the protests filed by Coulson Aviation (USA) Inc., of Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada, 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Minden Air Corp., of Minden, Nevada, challenging the sole-source award of a contract by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Forest Service, to Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., of Missoula, Montana, for airtanker services to support wildland firefighting.  The contract contemplates Neptune providing at least two modern large airtankers for up to 9 years (the contract also contains options to add up to five additional aircraft in each year).  The total estimated value, based on all possible aircraft over all years, is approximately $496 million.
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State Senator organizes air tanker demonstration

A Colorado state senator who is also a candidate for county Sheriff hosted a demonstration for an air tanker yesterday. Senator Steve King, who has been very outspoken about the need for the state to have their own aerial firefighting resources, invited Coulson to display their C-130Q air tanker at the Centennial airport on the southeast side of Denver. The aircraft, which has a contract with the U.S. Forest Service, conducted a drop near the runway after flying in from their base in Sacramento.

The video below details some of the sophisticated imaging and mapping capabilities of Coulson’s Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, including identifying targets and a data link for transferring them to the C-130.

Interior of the S-76

Interior of the S-76. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Another report on the air tanker demonstration that has better shots of the C-130 drop can be found at KWGN.

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Photos at Coulson’s hangar at McClellan

T-131, Sikorsky S-76, and Coulson's hauler

Coulson’s T-131, Sikorsky S-76, and hauler

We took these photos at Coulson’s hangar at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, March 21, 2014 after the Aerial Firefighting conference (except for one photo that was taken a couple of days earlier). We appreciate the fact that Wayne and Britt Coulson feel confident to talk about and show others their firefighting operation.

T-131

T-131, a C-130Q.

Caption this. T-131.

Any suggestions for a caption for this photo?

T-131 being pushed out of the hangar

T-131 being pushed out of the hangar

Stickers in the tool box, Coulson

Stickers in the tool box of one of the Coulson mechanics. These guys are not JUST mechanics, pilots, and crewmembers. Many of them are passionate about fire aviation.

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DynCorp and Coulson announce cooperative venture

Tonight at the Aerial Fighting Conference DynCorp and Coulson are announcing a strategic alliance. They intend to work together to bid on aerial fighting contracts and will provide those services if selected.

Coulson has operated air tankers and helicopters in North America and Australia for years, and DynCorp currently has a contract to provide maintenance and pilots for CAL FIRE’s S2T air tankers and maintenance for their helicopters.

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Helicopters fighting coal mine fire in Australia

Coulson S61 in Australia

A massive fire at a coal mine at Morwell, Victoria in Australia was fought with helicopters, as well as massive quantities of water from the ground. It is now under control after firefighters battled it for 29 days. The fire was most likely the result of a bushfire started by an arsonist.

Coulson’s Sikorsky S61 helicopters, working on contract down under, dropped water on the fire. We thank the Coulson company for sending us these photos.

Coulson S61 in Australia 3 Coulson S61 in Australia 4 Coulson S61 in Australia 2The video below was shot from the helmet cam of one of the pilots while dropping water on the fire.

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A sole source air tanker award, how it developed

BAe-146 drops on Devore Fire

A Neptune BAe-146 drops on the Devore Fire, November 5, 2012. Photo by Rick McCLure.

Today, March 11, the Government Accountability Office will hold a hearing at their office in Washington, DC to consider the protests filed by three air tanker companies over the propriety of the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) noncompetitive contract award to Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., for next-generation large airtankers. The hearing was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET, but was a closed session, open only to GAO personnel, attorneys for the three companies that protested the contract, and two individuals from the Department of Agriculture who have been asked to be available to testify, Lisa Wilusz, a Senior Procurement Executive, and Gregory Parham, the Chief Acquisition Officer. Even the owners of the protesting companies are prohibited from attending, to prevent them from being exposed to their competitors’ trade secrets.

Protesting the sole source award for two BAe-146 air tankers to Neptune, are Coulson Aviation (USA), Inc; 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC; and Minden Air Corp. If only the basic two air tankers are signed up, the value of the contract would be about $141 million. If the options for the five additional tankers are utilized, it would be hundreds of millions.

The GAO is required to make their decision about the propriety of the sole source award by March 28.

Fire Aviation has reviewed almost three dozen documents filed by the protesting companies as well as the USFS’ Motion to Dismiss the protests. The files contain letters of protests, supplementary protests, transcripts of Congressional hearings, “declarations” written by some of the principles, an NTSB report, and an article from FireAviation.com. While it remains to be seen which side the GAO will favor, regardless of the outcome it is clear that after the dust settles the attorneys will probably close shop for two weeks and take their families to Bora Bora.

Most of the documents have redactions, some more than others. One or two are virtually useless as a result, but most still contain a great deal of information. We will elaborate on them, but first, get a cup of coffee–it’s a long story.
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