Above: A Siller Helicopters CH-54A (H-781); a Type 1 helicopter. Photo by Siller.
Contracts have been awarded to 13 companies for a total of 34 Type 1 firefighting helicopters. The exclusive use U.S. Forest Service contracts issued on February 26 are effective through April 30, 2017, with the possibility of three one-year renewal option periods.
Below are the companies receiving contracts along with the number of helicopters each will be providing:
Central Copters: 2
Columbia Helicopters: 5
Billings Flying Service: 2
Firehawk Helicopters: 4
Helicopter Transport Services: 5
Helimax Aviation: 2
Mountain West Helicopters: 1
Heliquest International: 2
Swanson Group Aviation: 2
Siller Helicopters: 4
Timberline Helicopters: 2
Rainier Helicopter International: 1
Croman Corporation: 2
A company conspicuous by its absence is Erickson. The company had eight Air Cranes on the last Type 1 contract that was issued in 2013. We have reached out to Erickson to determine why they are not on the list, but did not immediately receive a response. There is a theory on a helicopter forum that when Erickson purchased Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. (and their 64 aircraft) and the Brazilian company Air Amazonia (and their 14 helicopters), they no longer qualified as a “small business” and lost their eligibility to compete for the contract.
Even though Erickson is not involved this year there are still nine Sikorsky helicopters similar to the Air Crane that will be flying over fires for the next one to four years. Helicopter Transport Services has five and Siller has four. The models are CH-54A, CH-54B, SK-64A and SK-64E.
Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) posted the information about this latest award on their web site. When the 2013 contracts were issued the U.S. Forest Service refused to divulge which companies received them. We first asked for the information on April 16, 2013, hoping to receive it well before the western wildfire season got underway. We were told that the list was only available if we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which we did. After many delays, countless emails, excuses, and being sent incorrect information, we finally received it September 26, 2013 as the western wildfire season was beginning to wind down and more than five months after asking for it. At the time we wrote:
It is absurd that this information about how taxpayers’ money is being spent is not easily available to citizens.
The total four-year estimated cost of this latest contract is $594 million. The citizens have a right to know this information.
We are pleased that the FBO is being more transparent this year.