USFS may contract for scooper air tankers

CL-415 in Los Angeles County

The U.S. Forest Service may contract for one or more amphibious water-scooping air tankers. Tuesday the agency issued a Request for Information which can be a first step before a solicitation for proposals. From the specifications below, it appears that they are looking for CL-415s which have a maximum capacity of about 1,600 gallons.

  • One (1) aircraft with a tank capacity of 1,600 U.S. gallons.
  • Cruise airspeed of at least 180 knots true airspeed at 10,000 feet pressure altitude and ISA, empty tank.
  • Endurance of four (4) hours at maximum cruise power, optimum altitude, standard temperature with a 45-minute reserve.
  • Sufficient flight crews to provide seven day coverage while in use.
  • Capable of landing and takeoff on a 5,000 ft gravel runway.
  • Multiple Turbine Engines.

The RFI has a response due date of July 23, and it says the aircraft would be used 2013 through 2017. Knowing how long it takes the USFS to award a contract for air tankers, many scoopable lakes will be iced over by the time any contracts are signed. [I wish I had a Photoshopped image of a CL-415 trying to scoop on an iced-over lake.]

It will be interesting to see if anyone puts up a fight or lodges a protest to try to get a contract for the Russian-built BE-200, a jet-powered water scooper that carries about 3,000 gallons. That aircraft has several obstacles to overcome, including certification from the FAA. Contract protests have worked out well recently for the companies that used the process. But we are still waiting to see what Neptune is going to receive for dropping the one they lodged during the last next-gen air tanker contract process. Do they have some scoopers hidden in their hangar in Missoula? Maybe we’ll start a rumor: they are installing floats on one of their BAe-146s.   😉  [Another Photoshop opportunity.]

The Department of the Interior contracts for at least a couple of water scoopers, but the USFS has not had any in their air tanker fleet in recent years. The conventional wisdom is that the USFS has a bias against scoopers.

The USFS aviation program is not known for taking large, bold steps, decisive steps, so it would be surprising if they contracted for more than two or three scoopers. If they want more than that, and a vendor was hoping to purchase a new one from Bombardier, they better move quickly because the company has only one outstanding order for a CL-415 after which they are expected to shut down production.

11 thoughts on “USFS may contract for scooper air tankers”

  1. You know, Bill

    This is just tooooooo good to pass up!!!

    Saaayy Whhuutt?? An RFI ? This late in the game and Bombardier ready to let the ‘415 line go?

    Nothing like timing in the USFS contract world…better late than never

    What? That RAND report they spent $840K USD on…..kinda bothering them now, eh?

    What happened to the dream machines…you know the C27J and the C130J?

    One could really go conspiratorial on this….but the reality is….sequestration or not….the CL415 has been operating for nearly 20 yrs in itself and was making the tours back then…even through Minnesota.

    Problem is RFI or not….reality and the RAND study has apparently come home to roost or there are other “pressures” put on the USFS to PERFORM during these budget years.

    They (USFS) can say what they would like for damage control……..but after spendin’ and spewin’ “we got it handled” and with the Canadians operating their own fire season…….apparently we got it handled is just a moniker…

    If they had this handled and even got close to the aviation system in Canada…this whole idea for a RFI would have never come along..

    Hopefully the operators will ask for 5 and 10 year contracts for the CL415 just for Sierras and Golfs……………….

  2. Aero Flite is the only US operator of the 215/415 series I understand.
    Sounds like there may be another opening for the Canadians-again..

    1. AeroFlite is partially owned by a Canadian operator now (ConAir). Wouldn’t be surprised to see it go to them. The RFI has a quick turnaround time (RPF expected late July, award mid-August) so unless someone already has plans in place to pursue this, its going to be tough to meet it.

  3. Well, since they are going against conventional wisdom, maybe they’ll also do an RFI (what the heck, why not just jump to RFP) on medium tankers, too? Sure would be nice to have a few 2000 gallon machines to fill the gaps sprinkled around the area. Maybe if they published now, we could have something ready for 2015? We need to remember, there is always another year coming.

  4. Will one CL415, on its own, be an effective aircraft? In Canada they are almost always paired up.
    I agree, AeroFlite or their Canadian partner will be in the hunt for this contract.

  5. Since it’s an RFI, I suspect (hope, filling that hand up again) it is a budgeting tool only to figure the cost per unit to add them to the aircraft fleet. I would hope they would then use that info to create an RFP and a budget line item that would staff multiple planes in those locations where a scooper can be successful.

    If you look at the various reports, the NextGen contract will take quite a few seasons before it could meet the identified need. I would suspect there is no intention to get to the total number of needed aircraft using that contract. To me, obviously the Legacy Contract will expire, so they should be planning on filling out the mix somewhere. But that’s only what my logic sees, it may not match USFS logic.

  6. This mission requirement can be met by the Canadair CL215T and the 415.

    The only Canadian operators of the 415 are the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and more recently Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba.

    Saskatchewan and Alberta both opted to convert some of their CL215s to CL215Ts. The work was done at Abbotsford, BC by a partnership lead by Conair.

    Alberta has a fourth CL215 which may or may not be converted to turbine.

    Later model CL215s are better candidates for turbine conversion. Saskatchewan’s have glass cockpits.

    The average CL215 might only fly 200 hours a year most are relatively low time airframes but have high cycles if the were doing drops every two to five minutes…

    Over the life of the CL215/215T program there have been pauses in production because the aircraft are sold to goverments that have long procurement cycles. The production releases have been in the 20-25 aircraft range … In terms of long-lead parts ordered from suppliers.

    I read the Aviation Week speculation but I don’t think that Bombardier has confirmed this story in any of their annual or quarterly financial conference calls with analysts.

    The aircraft is built at the old Cartierville plant in north Montreal and then the major components are shipped to North Bay, Ontario for assembly in half a hangar bay.

    1. Buffalo Airways also operates CL215s on contract in the NWT and Turkey and has been crewing an aircraft they sold to Korea.

    2. Does the CL215T have a higer payload than the standard 215? If I remember correctly, the CL215 only has a payload of about 1,200 gallons, so unless the 215T has increased capacity I’m not sure it would fit.

      I know the T model had an engine upgrade, I guess that could have increased capacity.

      1. The USFS RFI was specifically written for the CL-415 given the 1,600 US gallon total requirement.

        The CL-215 and CL-215T have the same tank size of 2 x 720 US gallons for 1,440 US gallons total. (1,440 USG = 1,200 Imperial gallons)

        This link summarizes the CL-215T conversion…

        YXX Aerospace equally owned by Conair and Aero-Flite then subcontracted to Cascade Aerospace have been installing Bombardier’s conversion kits.

    3. Aero-Flite’s CL-215’s…
      N262NR c/n 1081 (ex C-GDRS) built 1985
      N264V c/n 1090 (ex C-GOFM) built 1986
      N267V c/n 1103 (ex C-GOFP) built 1987

      MNDR’s CL-215’s (Aero-Flite operated)
      N263NR c/n 1082 (ex C-GENU) built 1985
      N266NR c/n 1102 (ex C-GOFO) built 1987

      These would be considered late model CL-215’s and be good candidates for T conversions.

      Any word if Aero-Flite or Minnesota are going to convert theirs since Aero-Flite is involved in the conversion business?

      Bombardier’s website only lists 8 conversion kits ordered/sold recently (4 Alberta, 4 Sask) In the late 1980’s 17 kits were sold. (15 Spain, 2 Quebec)

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