Neptune Aviation Services will retire the first two of its seven operational P2V Neptunes by the start of the 2013 wildfire season, as the aerial firefighter phases in its growing fleet of former commercial jets, modified as air tankers.
The Missoula-based company, which has been operating the specially configured BAe 146 jets since 2011, currently has three, with two more slated to enter the fleet during the first half of 2013. The four-engine jets, all relatively low-cycle, were procured from airlines and leasing companies to replace Neptune Aviation’s former US Navy Neptune patrol aircraft. The twin-piston engine powered P2Vs, dating from the early Cold War Era, had been retrofitted with tanks for fire retardant chemical dropping following their retirement from military service.
“The BAe 146, which we selected as our next-generation air tanker, has at least 20 years of service ahead of it as an aerial firefighter,” said Neptune Aviation President Dan Snyder. “As we take delivery of additional aircraft, we will continue to retire our remaining P2Vs at the rate of about two per year, depending upon the needs of the US Forest Service.”
Snyder added that Neptune Aviation Services is currently in discussions with TronosJet Maintenance for the acquisition of a sixth BAe 146. The Prince Edward Island company has partnered with Neptune on the BAe 146 modifications, which includes the installation of an internal tank with a capacity of 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. Long term, the operator plans to fly as many as 11 modified BAe 146s. In a related development, Neptune Aviation Services, according to Snyder, has taken the lead on the BAe 146 Air Tanker Modification Project from Tronosjet.
“Most of the modification and engineering work has shifted to Neptune Aviation Services, which includes all of the revisions made to the initial modification work,” he explained. “The revisions were based on our operational experience with the aircraft and will improve the performance of the tank system.” Going forward, Snyder added, TronosJet Maintenance will be responsible for procuring the aircraft, as well as technical support.
Currently, eight of the company’s P2V pilots have been trained on the BAe 146 airtanker, while another four are going through the ground school at Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula. The ground school is being directed by a former Air Wisconsin instructor pilot.
“The simulator portion of training is conducted at Oxford Training Academy in the UK,” Snyder explained. “The pilots get a BAe 146 type rating, following a successful check ride in the airplane with a Neptune examiner pilot.”