USFS to issue contracts for 3 next-gen air tankers

Tanker 910, a DC-10
Tanker 910, a DC-10, landing at Rapid City, April 23, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert

(Originally published at 11:15 a.m. MT, May 31, 2013; updated at 8:30 p.m., May 31, 2013)

The attorneys and U.S. Forest Service officials dealing with the contract protest that Neptune Aviation lodged when they were passed over for a next-generation air tanker contract have have decided that three of the seven line items on the solicitation are exempt from Neptune’s protest because the company did not bid on those line items. As a result, three companies were notified Thursday that they definitely will be issued five-year exclusive use contracts:

  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier for one of their two DC-10s
  • Minden Air Corp for a BAe-146
  • Coulson Aircrane (USA) for a C-130Q

The notification of the imminent awards comes 548 days after the USFS began the solicitation for next-gen air tankers. Two of the three companies told Fire Aviation that they have the awards in their hands. Bruce Palmer, a spokesperson with the USFS in Boise told us the awards and the award letters were sent Thursday.

The contracts will allow the companies to add an additional air tanker each year for up to five years, IF, and that’s a big IF, the USFS decides to add the aircraft and IF the agency has the funds to grow the air tanker program.

The other four line items on the pending next-gen contracts that are on hold because of Neptune’s protest are two MD87s provided by Aero Air, LLC of Hillsboro, Ore., and two Avro RJ85s from Aero Flite, Inc. of Kingman, Ariz.

The contracts to be issued to Minden, Coulson, and 10 Tanker, will require that the air tankers be fully certified and approved by the FAA and the Interagency AirTanker board by August 1, 2013, when their Mandatory Availability Period is scheduled to begin.

The DC-10 is already approved and has been dropping on fires for years.

It is thought that Coulson should be able to meet the deadline, since they are using a previously approved 3,500-gallon Aero Union tank system. The conversion of the C-130Q is nearing completion in San Bernardino and will be designated as Tanker 131, with a registration number of N130FF. Like the DC-10 (which always carries 11,600 gallons, however the new contract may change that), Tanker 131 will never have to reduce their retardant load due to density altitude. Future Coulson C-130 air tankers, if they are built, will have 5,000-gallon tanks, but on hot days at higher altitudes will occasionally have to fill at less than maximum retardant capacity.

Minden has recently been conducting flight characteristics tests of their BAe-146 supervised by an FAA pilot, as well as static tests on the ground to evaluate the tank system. Leonard Parker, Minden’s CEO, told us that they are close to obtaining the FAA’s Supplemental Type Certificate and expect to begin the airborne drop tests for the Interagency AirTanker Board very soon. He said the airtanker, designated Tanker 46, should be ready to drop on fires in 60 to 90 days.

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8 thoughts on “USFS to issue contracts for 3 next-gen air tankers”

  1. Hi Mr. Gabbert,
    First off, the p2’s usually carry the full load of retardant, not ” usually less than 2000 gallons” you have reported in your last several articles about tankers.
    Second, why the hell would the news anchor who obviously knows zip about tankers report on the trail off?
    You do seem to have your favorites picked out, don’t ya.

    1. As you probably know, Mike, the P2V is carded for carrying a maximum of 2,082 gallons. A 2007-2009 air tanker study found that the average retardant load in a P2V was 1,948 gallons.

  2. YEP

    Understandably the USFS needs attorneys to cover their fourth point of contact.

    Having somebody retired from the USFS contracting world working for Mr Snyder surely should have known the three of seven line items of the solicitation, surely wasn’t keeping up with the USFS line items as he should have been.

    But there you go…….former folks in contracting and attorneys….always looking out for somebody…and not necessarily the good of the country!!

  3. I just heard the DC-10 is going to be assigned a home base for the season. Does that mean all next-gen awards will also have a home base?

    1. Randy: air tankers are assigned an “administrative base”. When there were 44 large air tankers on contract they could spend more time at the administrative bases than they did last year, for example, when we got down to eight air tankers and they had to be moved around often. Here is a link to a list of the large air tankers and their administrative bases on contract as of May 23, 2013. These days large air tankers are moved around frequently and may spend little time at their administrative bases.

      1. Bill, what I heard was that the actual aircraft (DC-10) was going to be physically located at a certain airport for the duration of their contract. Meaning they would be out of rotation for a lot of fires unless specifically requested. I almost think this is a genius tactic. Put the airplane as far away as possible from where most of fire season is occurring, name request it, it won’t come with only its contract load of 5000 gals., allowing them to charge more for hauling more retardant, and fly farther to the fire. Brilliant business move if it works!

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