Coulson loses B.C. contract for Martin Mars

Martin Mars at Lake Elsinore, California
Martin Mars at Lake Elsinore, California
Martin Mars at Lake Elsinore, California

The Coulson Company announced that they no longer have a contract with the government of British Columbia for their water-dropping Martin Mars amphibious air tanker. The 7,000-gallon aircraft has been helping firefighters suppress fires for 53 years, and has dropped over 8,000 loads. Built in the 1940s, it was converted into an air tanker with the capability to drop plain water or gel on fires.

“It has been an honour, over the last seven years, to operate the aircraft and continue the tradition of the past men and women who have safely operated and supported the Hawaii and Philippine Mars in firefighting roles,” said Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson.

“The commitment to excellence that the Mars operation has displayed over the last 53 years is outstanding, given the difficult firefighting missions faced in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. There will never be another aircraft that can kill a wildfire like the Mars with its ability to directly attack fire with a pay load of 27,000 litres.”


Thanks go out to Roman

25 thoughts on “Coulson loses B.C. contract for Martin Mars”

  1. No aircraft, whether the Mars, a 747 or a fleet of a thousand helicopters can “kill a wildfire”. That claim has always belonged to the ground firefighters with the shovels and hard labour.
    One question: if the Mars payload is 27,000 litres (7100 USG), what is the fuel load on board? A more honest working payload is about 16,000 litres at the beginning of the firefighting mission.
    Another question(s): is the Mars amphibious? How many land takeoffs or landings has it performed?

  2. Last of the WW2 vintage aircraft. Darned impressive on the drop.
    worked with it once up on the Washington/BC border..
    Had 3350 Wrights like the DC-7.

  3. Watched and direct over one hundred drops with the Mars when it was stationed at Melones Lake, east of Modesto, Ca. CDF had it on a CWN but had been dispatching it as immediate need from the command center, Tuolumne/Calaveras Unit. Another hot dry day in August 1999, (drought cycle) new breaking brush fire, timber, above mid slope lots of potential, room to run. S 2’s (no T) on scene in about eight minutes. The fire was over twenty acres and gaining energy. The Mars arrived in about fifteen minutes………………… acreage thirty eight. We did have a few problems with the Mars. The drop appeared to be too low, right flank. (probably just an optical illusion 200 feet wing span) Water/foam was running down slope across the road carrying debris and mud. The CDF dozer could not work the right flank, too muddy. Spot fire ahead of main fire about 1000 feet upslope became visible as the Mars was returning with its third and final load. Thinking there where other spots had the Mars drop on what was now a fifty by fifty feet spot, main fire was done. Bad call, never found that spot. I ponder now if the Rim Fire would have escaped if the Mars or a VLAT had arrived shortly after the Rim was reported. Take off and landings on LAND for the Mars, no take offs only one landing.

    1. Johnny I was on the recieving end of that Mars “flash flood” but the fire went out. We laughed about it later!

  4. Johnny,
    (according to my source) Rim Fire; no USFS ground fire fighters for the first 2 days.
    Air supports the Ground effort.
    I agree with Patrick; No aircraft, whether the Mars, a 747 or a fleet of a thousand helicopters can “kill a wildfire”. That claim has always belonged to the ground firefighters with the shovels and hard labour.

    Air drops can’t do much with ground support.

    1. Jerome, that was the fatal flaw. No ground troops, no fight.
      No wonder it went over the hill. Everyone has to be in place to be effective. Ground people can see and do things that the
      Aerial folks can’t.

  5. TG MCoy.
    Agreed !
    Combined means (air/ground) working with same objectives, communicating efficiently, etc…
    Access seemed to be really difficult but… 2 days without ground troops!?

    1. Hey guys. Sound thinking, I think, by the agencies to hold back on sending in crews. The potential for something much more tragic, yet unnecessary, than the Yarnell Hill Fire incident was averted.

      I don’t think access was particularly difficult. There is a good FS route accessed a short drive from Hwy. 120 that drops into the Tuolumne River canyon, paralleling Jawbone Ridge (general point of origin) to the north with a good bridge crossing to the Jawbone side at the bottom. There is also a FS route that travels most of the spine of Jawbone Ridge. It is gnarly terrain though with steep and deep river canyons. All the vegetation is normally quite flammable in the summertime. This season it is “gasoline flammable”.

      The way I see it there was not the possibility of an “absolute” escape route and not a safe zone for miles.

    1. Same here- I was just agreeing that the ground support was needed but having lost some friends at Storm King I see the reasoning behind this..

    2. Yo. I surely did not intend anything negative against any of you. My concern was for the “uninitiated” that visit or habituate WFT…. that there be some sort of reasonable explanation why, perhaps, there was no ground assault for the first 2 days.

  6. Living in British Columbia, I hear it all the time from the General Public, “Bring in the MARS, it will put it out!!”…

    My response “If the MARS was the ultimate fire fighting aircraft, don’t you think some billionairre would be building more to meet the demand?”

    They usually just close their mouths and walk away 🙂

    1. I also live in British Columbia and I also filed a complaint to the Premier on the cancellation of the Mars aircraft as they are an asset to the fire fighting capability for this Province.

      1. So that means you are ok with direct award contracts regardless of the cost. Coulson hasn’t ever had to do a competitive bid to win that contract he has had with the BC Government.

        1. Contract’s are negotiated and when both parties are happy on the price a contract is signed for fire fighting duty’s ,there is no competitive bid for the job.Conair, Airspray and other fire fighting aircraft won’t survive without contract’s .It helps carry them through the off season so they will be there the next year .It’s the price taxpayer’s pay so the firehouse can stay operational .The problem the Mars has is it is to big to fit in the little box the BCFS works out off ,otherwise that’s not how we do thing’s so we don’t want it .

    2. Your argument about the billionairre falls apart wioth just a bit of thought.

      The thing about the MARS’ is: they Already Exist. No one could make money footing the cost for biuilding new ones and then trying to get contracts to recover that plu operating costs, but given that the planes are already in existence…

      It looks like you’re running into the same problem we have here in the US. The gov’t just wants to pay for the hours it actually using the planes, based soley on the operting costs for those hours. They’re not willing to pay what it costs to keep the asset available until needed. That’s like having a police force but saying the officers fund their own training and equipment, but only get paid when they’re actualy physically working on a crime and what they get paid is just a normal hourly rate. Don’t act suprised when no one is willing to become a police officer.

      1. The cost for delivering a given amount water, per hour, to the majority of fires in BC is more expensive with the MARS than other scooper aircraft. Its just a fact.

        Its a great aircraft with an impressive capability. It just so happens that BC is not the ideal home for it anymore. This aircraft is over 50 years old. Who wouldn’t want to see newer more efficent technology in their workplace?

        The taxpayers deserve to get the best bang for their buck.
        Some analysis in 2010 from the BCFS Aviation folks, during a busy 2010 fire season, came up with the following costs of delivering water to fires.
        Martin Mars ranged $0.30 to $0.72, Average = $0.48/litre
        AT802 FireBoss ranged $0.14 to $0.66, Average = $0.31/litre

        And here is some 2010 number crunching from that report regarding availability (they dont just pay per hour of use).

        It is standard practice within aviation contracts to use a daily term of 7 hours when calculating hourly costs for part-days of activity. When away from their home base, both the Mars and the FireBosses have a daily availability rate from which an hourly rate can be established. For the Martin Mars, the hourly availability rate is ($10,960/7) = $1,565.71. For the FireBoss, the hourly availability rate is ($6,565/7) = $937.86. Based on this, a calculation about hourly operating costs can be made. For a deployment away from home base, the Martin Mars hourly cost of operation considering hourly availability, flight rate and fuel only is ($1,565.71 + $18,556 + $5,000) = $25,121.71 per hour. The FireBoss hourly availability, flight rate and fuel only cost is ($937.86 + $725 + $1,025) = $2,687.86 per hour.
        Based on these calculations, the comparable number of FireBosses that can be operated for the same cost as the Martin Mars ($25,121.71/$2,687.86) is a little over 9 aircraft.

        I prefer to rely on the science and math, rather than the media and awe factor.

        1. Conair Fireboss to BCFS 2010 as reported above
          Daily Rate – $6,565 + Flight Rate(dry) – $725

          Looking at CWN SEAT contracts with the DOI …

          Aero Spray Fireboss CWN
          Daily Rate – $4,150 + Flight Rate(dry) – $4,242

          Queen Bee AT-802 CWN
          Daily Rate – $3,129 + Flight Rate(dry) – $3,090

          Shorter fire season for Conair, newer aircraft, and lack of competition can explain their higher daily rate. The very low flight rate though doesn’t make sense compared to US vendors, are you sure this number is correct?

          Is there an online link to the BCFS cost comparison report that you are referencing?

          Doing the same analysis for DC-10 vs AT-802
          DC-10 (CWN)
          $51,522 / 7 = $7,360 per hour Avail
          Flight Rate(dry) = $7,668 per hour
          Assume 15,000 lb/hr fuel burn = 2,143 gph x $5.91
          = $12,665 per hour fuel
          DC-10 per hour = $27,693

          AT-802 (CWN)
          $3,129 / 7 = $447 per hour avail
          Flight Rate = $3,090 per hour
          Assume Fuel Burn 88 gph x $5.91/ gal Jet A = $520
          AT-802 per hour = $4,057

          1 DC-10 = 6.8 AT-802s Clearly we should park the DC-10 in favor of way more SEATs.

          Maybe comparing SEATs and VLATs isn’t really a worthwhile comparison as they excel in different situations and each have unique abilities.

  7. Four Martin Mars were acquired in the early 1960s for use as water bombers and flown to Victoria for conversion. The first was destroyed in a fatal crash and the second by a hurricane. The two survivors were operated by Forest Industries Flying Tankers which was a consortium of five leading BC forestry companies. In 1985, I interviewed the retired chairman of the largest forest company participating in FIFT and he was a former RCAF Air Vice Marshall who had once commanded flying boat base in Manitoba in the late 1920s whose primary mission was forest fire detection and suppression. His was a great believer in the use of aircraft to flight fires and must have played a key role moving the Mars program forward (He was served as Chairman of Okanagan Helicopters which developed the monsoon bucket for fire fighting). In the late 1980s or early 1990s the big logging companies started to pull out of the FIFT consortium until only one partner was left. This probably was connected the growing restrictions on clear cutting old growth forests on the BC coast which the Mars was designed to protect. Coulson, a family-owned forestry company in Port Alberni had a helicopter division operating Sikorsky S-61Ns on heli-logging and US wildfire contracts, bought the Mars operation and expanded the market for the aircraft to the US and Mexico but I’m sure it’s been a very expensive business to maintain. I’ve seen both Mars flying at their home base … very impressive sight … to be missed.

  8. The “perfect” air tanker base. Air tankers on seven day i.e. Cal Fire and helicopter contracts. SEAT or S-2T, LAT, and VLAT. Three aircraft on the ramp, plus the circle burners (air attack). That wasn’t so hard. Who do I send the bill to?

  9. quote:”Some analysis in 2010 from the BCFS Aviation folks, during a busy 2010 fire season, came up with the following costs of delivering water to fires.”

    And BC FS and other government dept’s never “engineer” results to their ultimate goal.

    Stats and numbers are their to prove what you want…not facts!

    1. After some searching I discovered that Mr. Miller was quoting a previous comment, from “woweezowee”.

      A tip: if you want to reply to a particular comment, click the “Reply” button just below the comment.

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