AVID air tanker report released

Tanker 07 on the Myrtle Fire, 2012
Tanker 07 on the Myrtle Fire, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service has released another study on air tankers (large 10mb file), which is one of nine commissioned by the agency on the topic since 1995. The $380,000 contract for this one was awarded to AVID, a Virginia-based company that employed a crew of retired and current aviation professionals for this project.

It would be helpful if an expensive 117-page report like this clearly stated the objectives for the study, but all we could find was this:

The purpose of this study is to build analytical data that can be used to estimate the requirement for airtankers in the future.

The report includes a huge quantity of statistics about how air tankers have been used over the last several years. I was expecting to see some concrete recommendations about how they should be used in the future, but there was little along those lines.

This study, like the RAND report, included no information about Very Large Air Tankers. But while the RAND study was favorable toward scoopers, this AVID report addresses them like this:

There is a relatively small amount of USFS background data that documents the use of scooper aircraft, making it difficult to come to conclusions regarding their use. While continued analysis of scooper usage is warranted, the focus of the current analysis is primarily on large airtanker usage, followed by heavy helicopter usage.

There was little else in the report about scoopers, reinforcing the perception that the USFS has a bias against them.

There was definitely some interesting data in the study, and below are two illustrations. Click on them to see larger versions.

Wildfire probability June 14 Unable to fill requests vs number of air tankers

Other air tanker studies

9 thoughts on “AVID air tanker report released”

  1. Interesting that the Avid study found that “only about half of the IA (initial attack) filled orders were successful in containing the final fire size to less than 300 acres.” This seems surprisingly low.

    Understanding why these IA missions were unsuccessful could provide a significant savings opportunity in wildland fire suppression costs.

  2. About $3400 USD per page to remind how inaccurate the RAND report was.

    Not paying attention to LAT and then mixing with helicopters and graphs.

    Sure is a nice read!

    Weak on content on how to approach funding sources and how to approach the problem of reaching out to Congress to fund anything

    This “report” really does not answer anything about the LAT program and where it is to go…..like the studies dating back to 1995…impressive how to base aircraft at many airports and some aircraft info that would never materialize…like the A10 and S3a Viking….the 1995 saviors of the C130 program!!

    Any more of these interesting USFS contracted studies that show NO answer on how to fund a program other than to repeat what is already known through graphs and through a lot of admissions here,,,,,things still need to be studied

    LIKE , again how to approach Congress, how the USFS needs a “bake sale” to even come close in closing the loop of large airtankers.

    For being a bunch of “aviation professionals” these retirees who after 20-30 yrs of Federal service still sure know how pull up the milking stool and take another $400K that could have done more useful things.

    I would venture to say discrediting RAND about scoopers and LAT’s and thinking $400K USD on 117 pages was somehow better and answered more questions….only confirms once again 1995 NAT REDUX X19.

    HOW does this reaaaaaaly answer funding for the C27J and C130J soooper savior aircraft or any other aircraft. Thinking this may be start…is a nonstarter..

    No aircraft costs, jus a lot of rehash….no input from manufacturers of aircraft would probably have to tell this team, the true aircraft costs.

    It is a lot more than graphs, UTF charts, chirping about the RAND report. It just isn’t a report describing a true economic or how much it is going to cost.

    Just 117 pages of really no recommendations or aircraft cost analysis…time to reaaaaly call in some TRUE heavy hitters from the aircraft industry to spell it out better than this report

    One good thing….written in true USFS style…not enough meat!!

  3. They emphasize ‘unable to fill’ stats heavily in their paper. The problem I have is with the reporting of UTF. They mention on page 36 “The request data shows that the contracted fleet was able to fill more requests in 2011 (1134
    orders) than in 2010 (1061 orders), despite the fleet reduction that occurred (from 19 large
    airtankers in 2010 down to 12 in 2011). The current analysis does not reveal a clear cause of
    this, and further analysis seems warranted.” My interpretation is that the reporting of UTF is poor and not a reliable stat. Our agencies need to do a better job of tracking resources and managing data without adding burden to our incident command teams.

    1. Also, regarding scoopers, I think we would all be surprised with how many lakes/reservoirs there are in the west that could support scoopers. I would venture to guess that there are more bodies of water that could be scooped from than there are large runways that can handle LATs.

  4. Well we just keep re-inventing the wheel. One question. Is it me or does the
    USFS et.al. ignore Calfire and its fairly successful methodology?

  5. Dodge,
    I agree, plenty of lakes, water sources spots for scoopers but….
    There are 2 issues(I can think of) with scoopers;
    1. It’s a culture change! but they actually have the same fire fighting role as 1000-1500 Gallons helicopters.
    2. Wildlife and Park Rangers might not like to see these boats switching lakes several times a day, carrying stuff on their hull around the country…

    1. Jerome-
      Is Aerial Firefighting about putting out fire…….or protecting a culture? Scoopers do deliver water like helicopters, except they can cover much larger dispatch areas and can operate on longer fuel cycles. It’s hard for anything to compete with a Crane or 234 when water and their fuel truck are close by. On longer dispatches requiring IA your scooper will beat the Type 1 helo there every time and be able to operate on station for some time thereafter.
      Scoopers are not here to replace your S-2, or the Cranes. They rarely operate in CA, and only when Fed retardant fixed wing and type 1 helos are tied up on other incidents. They are here to assist in Aerial Firefighting supporting the guys and gals on the ground.

      How can scoopers work in every other country but the US?

      …..because the politics of Aerial Firefighting in the US are much different perhaps?

      You can ask experienced (US) Crane operators that have worked with them in Europe. They will tell you the mix of the two types works very well. Each type has their strengths and weaknesses.

  6. I just finished reading this cover to cover. Good job Avid. 35 is the ~ number of needed aircraft to meet demand. I think Unable to fill stats have their issues, but if you have ever worked with any of these databases you’ll discover that the disconnect between them and consistency issues (ABS, Firecode, FPA, ROSS, Geomac etc) is frustrating. I really like seeing the disconnect explained in the appendices. Somebody should fix these databases immeditely!

    I don’t think 35 is unreasonable and I think that was the approximate number proposed in the blue ribbon panel. I personally still feel that no amount of aviation assets will offset what we will experience in coming years with climate change and continued wild land urban interface development. I say that as I’m comfortably sitting in my living room typing on my iPad and my neighborhood isn’t on fire, if it were I’d want ever tool available to the IC teams. In other word it’s easy to take the ‘Meh’ approach and do nothing. I think you put the decision in the hands of the Incident Command teams and run with what the agencies have compiled throughout all of the studies. There will never be the perfect data set that answers every contingency. There are simply to many variables involved in emergency management. If the IC teams want the tool, than you make damn sure they get it ( at least 90% of the time ;)…They have the most experience and have to wrangle the most risk. Get it done DC.

  7. Reply to Culture Change (is that a name?)
    I didn’t say we shouldn’t have Scoopers in the Tool Box.
    I said, in my opinion, several issues are blocking Scoopers to be considered.
    I’ve seen them at work when several are in daisy chain with short round trips scooping/dropping; it works.

    If CL415’s were built in the US, this would certainly help to overcome some of these issues.

    Let me be king for a day…or two. 🙂

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