DOI contracts for 33 Single Engine Air Tankers

Air Tractor 802 single engine air tanker

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group announced today that the Department of the Interior is funding 33 exclusive use Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) in 2014 as national shared resources. Historically, SEATs have been funded as primarily a local or regional resource with assigned home bases. The 2014 exclusive use SEAT fleet will not have assigned home bases. They will be treated as national shared resources similar to Large Air Tankers (LATs). Geographic area Coordination Centers (GACCs) can preposition SEATs using the same mechanisms and rationale used for other national resources.

There are three start dates — May 26th, June 5th and June 12th. Based on the number of DOI National Exclusive Use SEATs allocated to their GACC, Bureau of Land Management State Aviation Managers and Bureau of Indian Affairs Regional Aviation Managers will coordinate with fire staff and the Geographic Area Coordinating Group to determine the initial starting location of DOI Exclusive Use SEAT’s.

As National assets, DOI National Exclusive Use SEATs will be moved to areas of greatest need. Within Geographic Areas, Fire Staff on an interagency basis will provide direction to the Dispatch system on the mob/demob of SEATs to meet existing or forecasted fire loads within their jurisdiction. GACCs can preposition SEATs using the same mechanisms and rationale used with LATs.

Below are some of the provisions of the contracts:

  • These are one year Exclusive Use contracts with 4 option years.
  • There are no designated bases under these contracts.
    • Notice to Proceeds will be issued giving the contractor direction on where to report to at the beginning of the contract.
  • The Mandatory Availability Period will be 100 days with three different start dates — May 26th/June 5th/June 12th.
  • The aircraft will be AT-802s with an Interagency Airtanker Board approved gate system.
  • The Level I Pilots will be on a fixed 6/1 work schedule set at the start of the contract.
    • No relief pilot is required.
    • Companies can exchange pilots.
  • The contracts allow for the government to order an additional service truck at a daily flat rate of $500 when needed to augment the existing truck or to utilize the second one at a remote base.

The AT-802 holds 800 gallons of retardant. This compares to the 2,000 to 3,500 Large Air Tankers can carry, or the 11,600 gallons the DC-10 holds. But, SEATs are a very useful tool in the aerial firefighting tool box — a tool box that should have a variety of types and sizes of aircraft with different capabilities and niches.

As the western fire season gets under way, there are nine LATs available on exclusive use contracts, and one Very Large Air Tanker, a DC-10. It is possible that an additional five “next generation” LATs may eventually meet the requirements of the contracts that were issued to them a year ago and could be added to the fleet.

8 thoughts on “DOI contracts for 33 Single Engine Air Tankers”

  1. What a novel concept: treating 802s just like any other airtanker, and not tethering them close to home with a short leash. Good to see the US finally waking up to what every other wildfire agency that operates 802s throughout the world has been doing for years.

  2. Finally, common sense prevails. Get an aircraft that is already available.
    Put them in groups of 3 or 4 and spread them around. Should always be able to dispatch 2 out of 3 or 3 out of 4 even with mechanical issues.
    Call the heavies as required. The concept of initial attack may be re-born!

  3. Wasn’t there about the same number of SEATS last year on contract? I don’t know if I would be too fast to think there will be a policy of initial attack on Federal and State fires outside California and Oregon. If you have worked at one of these outposts (air tanker base) the protocol for sending a tanker is wait and wait some more. Although the lookouts (public) are reporting a large building black smoke and the fire weather index is high or above lets wait until air attack or a person in a pickup get there to confirm that the lookouts weren’t seeing something other than smoke. Or even worst the order (request) has to be processed through NIFC as these SEATS are now a national resource. It is this approach to (lack of I.A.) wild land fire fighting that continues to kill people and destroy resources. So hold up on those horses thinking something is going to change.

    1. Automatically dispatching SEATs and other aircraft to incidents (unless specified by local dispatch plans to protect urban interface, watersheds, etc, etc) is poor risk management. Retardant hasn’t improved enough to do much good unless ground resources are close or already in place to back it up. I think the lack of IA effectiveness described in your post could better be associated with the shortage of IA resources nation wide. Most forests have not seen an increase in equipment and IA personnel over the past 30 years. Some units have experienced a decrease in IA personnel. Compare that to how drought and fuel conditions have changed the western, midwestern, and southern landscapes and I think it is more accurate to say some initial attacks fail because there are not enough initial ground resources…the DOI exclusive use SEATS won’t require an order to NICC/NIFC to be used locally by units. They will be ordered and prepositioned the same way Type 1 & 2 airtankers are.

      1. I can’t see how you can say automatically dispatching is poor risk management. It is a proven concept in California, Australia and France for starters. It’s all about keeping the fire small before it becomes and ecological and economic liability. Strategically placing aircraft at places of highest risk (the interface of fire likelihood and assets at risk) is not rocket science and it works both as an effective suppression tool but more importantly reduces cost to the taxpayers. Remember retardant is not the only tool for early intial attack and other products you can use directly on the fire might actually put the fire out early and everyone can go home! Yes limited ground resources really can effect the outcome but don’t dismiss the very early attack strategy and predetermined responses, which is much better than lenghty approval processes that delay the aircraft getting in the air.

  4. Why try? It will be exciting to watch those SEATS in the North going to a fire in the South, and visa versa. Tonopah, NV. Airport will be the hub for refueling. As moths to a candle there will be vast areas throughout the West where a fixed wing air tanker response time will be measure in day, if at all.

  5. There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding in the present use and doctrine regarding SEAT use. SEATs don’t need to deploy from the Canadian border to the Mexican border; there are enough that they’re already spread out. SEATs have a great deal more operational choices for airfields; years ago we operated from dirt airstrips near the fire. SEATs come with portable mix rigs and fuel supply, effectively able to turn any airport into a temporary tanker base. SEAT operations can be run directly off tankers or fire engines, for foam, water, or retardant. They’re flexible.

    SEATs don’t replace heavy tankers and have never been intended to replace them. SEATs offer operational advantages, and have disadvantages; as a Type III tanker they carry lower capacity than the heavy tanker. That’s a given. Over the last few years, SEATs have been used increasingly on a mobile national basis (as well as various state contracts), especially the CWN platforms. The difference this year is the federalizing of the exclusive use contracts, as well as some of the ways they’re administered, as opposed to district contracting.

    We’re all working the same mission. The new contracts are a positive thing, and should increase the flexibility offered these resources.

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