The launch of the United Aerial Firefighters Association adds a unified industry voice to help shape changes in fire aviation practices, policies and funding.
As noted in their launch release on February 16, the UAFA was founded in “an effort to respond to the ever-growing wildfire challenge” and unites “leading aerial firefighting companies … to form a powerful industry association that will serve to foster safety and standardization in the aerial firefighting community.”
The UAFA identifies as “the only association dedicated to aerial firefighting and is a unified voice advocating for safety and standardization on the local, state, and federal levels.” Membership is open to those who own, operate or lease wildland firefighting aviation assets, and companies supporting the aerial firefighting industry. Additionally, free memberships will be available to nonprofits and state and national agencies engaged in the wildfire community.
“We’ve seen tremendous change occur in wildland fire aviation over the last twenty years,” says John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, who is one of the founding members as well as the UAFA’s first president. “As we look ahead, these challenges will only become more significant. While individual organizations within the industry will always be competitive, we believe the collective expertise represented within UAFA membership will help to ensure our industry continues to grow with the innovation, safety, and standardization necessary to deliver the best service possible to our customers.”
The UAFA’s entry into policy and planning occurs at an opportune moment. With the initial report on fire aviation released this week by the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, the need and value of a focused industry-expert voice becomes more apparent. Though the phrase “private aviation” only occurred three times in the commission’s report, some variation of “contract,” “contracting” or “contractor” appeared 132 times, including in the second recommendation: “Efforts should be made to include contractor perspectives in any future strategy development given that, at this time, the majority of aviation resources in the federal fleet are owned and operated by contractors.”
And in the third recommendation: ”A national strategy should consider all ownership models, including contracting and government ownership of aviation resources.”
Recommendations 5, 6 and 7 focus specifically on the contracting and financing of fire aviation, all seeking to resolve an interconnected set of concerns summarized in Finding 4: “Agencies’ current budget structures and contracting constraints have incentivized the use of contracts that are seasonal, shorter term, and, while incorporating best value considerations, ultimately favor short-term budget expediency over long-term value.”
(For more on the Commission, see “First Wildland Fire Commission report focuses on aviation” in Wildfire Today.)
As Gould observed in an interview with Wildfire Today/Fire Aviation, the initiative for founding the UAFA preceded the Wildland Fire Commission – so board members were able to meet with the commission and “were gratified to see that some of the points we discussed made it in to the report,” even though the UAFA was still in its founding phase.
“It’s the right time, right place” for the industry to come together, Gould said. While many of the members have met individually in the past with members of Congress and the US Forest Service and related agencies to share their perspectives, they were often asked “what does the industry think? We see the advantages of speaking as a single voice, a unified voice. We realized that within our individual companies we have an expertise and experience yet there’s nobody that really speaks for our industry, to get the messages to our customers and to the Hill.”
UAFA has opened an office in Washington, D.C., and is planning to hire an executive director this spring. One of their first charges will be “to discuss what our organization can do. The breadth of experience you find in UAFA reaches back into into 20, 30 years of experience and innovation. And innovation comes in a lot of forms, so the challenge is how do you integrate it into fire … with the association, we bring experience across all aspects of innovation, safety and standards.”
Founding UAFA board members include:
- President: John Gould, 10Tanker
- Vice President: Bart Brainerd, Firehawk Helicopters
- Secretary/Treasurer: Brett L’Esperance, Dauntless Air
- Director: Tim Sheehy, Bridger Aerospace
- Director: Jennifer Draughon, Neptune Aviation Services
For more information about the UAFA, visit UAFA.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.