Update on air tanker contracting process


It was 482 days ago that the U.S. Forest Service issued their solicitation for next-generation air tankers, however no contracts have been awarded in spite of the fact that all previous contracts for federal large and very large air tankers expired in December. The old contracts for a few air tankers were temporarily extended early in 2013 to provide some coverage.

Obviously the Forest Service is long overdue in awarding the contracts for legacy, next-generation, and very large air tankers. Fire season has been going on for several weeks in the south and the southwest, and Red Flag Warnings for enhanced fire danger have been common. Usually the tankers start coming on duty in mid-February.

There have been some indications that the Forest Service will announce contract awards this week for legacy air tankers, perhaps as early as Wednesday. But don’t hold your breath.

The privately owned air tanker companies, in order to remain alive in this industry, have to have nerves of steel and balls of titanium. They have to invest millions in the aircraft, deal with the FAA, pass a very expensive certification process required by the Interagency Airtanker Board, hope that Congress and the President appropriate enough money to fund a viable air tanker program, and then maybe, MAYBE receive a contract. And the contracting process is very daunting. Here is an example of a question from a potential bidder for a legacy contract, and an “answer” from the U.S. Forest Service:

Question: The response to question 44 in Response to Questions to the Draft Solicitation is confusing …. Please confirm that this RFP is only for legacy airtankers as defined by the “large Airtanker Modernization Strategy’.

Answer: The “Large Airtanker Modernization Strategy” states that Legacy Airtankers are airtankers such as P-2V Neptunes, P-3 Orions, and Convair CV-580s. However, the strategy provides no formal definition of a Legacy Airtanker. This solicitation was developed around the specifications of the Legacy type airtankers as identified above. There is no specifically defined criterion that specifically defines a Legacy airtanker. Next generation type (again no formal definition) aircraft or any type of aircraft may be offered and may be awarded under this solicitation as long as they meet the specifications identified in the solicitation.


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6 thoughts on “Update on air tanker contracting process”

  1. Interesting read to say the least. Gives you an idea of how the companies are positioning themselves. Will be curious to see how things come together in the next few days.

  2. I actually understood that and it doesn’t really sound that bad. It’s official, I’m getting old.

  3. HUH??

    They don’t know how to specifically define “Legacy aircraft?”

    Is this the same “mumbo jumbo” that has eliminated the C130 A thru series and P3 that was eliminated due “issues of contract and maintenance?”

    So then is OK to use CV580 series based on what? Aging aircraft issues? USFS ever run these through their “NDT processes?” No offense to our Canadian brethern…….they sure must be shakin or scratchin their heads on this also.. But aged aircraft are just that…but the USFS did not get the memo.

    Then Udall asks the industry to “respect” the up n coming “decision.” That in itself is pretty interesting…..USDA / FS out getting DC to see it their way…through Udall.

    Pretty much sums one thing……..”gonna” be an expensive fire season whether one get the current contract season unfubared and moving forward.

    Oh and that very expensive “certification process” makes working with the FAA as a less than adversarial process…. AND we pilots and mechanics know how that works. The IATB is just another hoop that needs some serious updating especially when the USFS touted “Next Gen” comes on line. That new “Next Gen” ought to have some reaaalll streamlined methodology now that larger turbine and jet aircraft are going to be used.

    You know, computers and systems that are there to reduce pilot workload in the flying environment using better flight and power profiles and IATB is still using approximately 1950 and 60 technology to ascertain drops…….no wonder the IATB is expensive……”it is as outdated as C130’s P3’s, P2v’s and all those Legacy aircraft.” Sarcasm folks…..but the reality is here is before us with the whole process while the industry is truly moving forward at their cost($).

  4. Fed airtanker on the “Gun Fire” on the San Bernardino NF this week. Believe it came out of Porterville.

    Way too early for fires in the chaparral….. Is it a heads up to “predictive services”? I doubt it.

    Check out the 2001/2002 and 2002/2003 SoCal weather history…mirror image of the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 pattern… just sayin!!

  5. Don’t forget the 1 August 2012 RFI for a C130 H/J and/or C27A RFI (no RFP yet), and the scooper (SEAT and multi-engine) RFP, solicitation D12PS00083 (I believe it came out in June 2012).

    Lots of conjecture about using more military C130s, but what delivery system would they use? MAFFS I systems were in bad shape when they were retired a couple of years ago, and their present status is unknown.

    USFS won’t even look at Containerized Delivery Ststems (CDS), Caylym Guardian and PCADS, although states could conceivably bypass USFS paralysis and give then a try with ANG C130s.

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