Neptune Aviation’s five BAe-146 air tankers

Neptune's five BAe-146 air tankers
Neptune’s five BAe-146 air tankers. Neptune Aviation photo.

Neptune Aviation assembled their five BAe-146 air tankers on the tarmac at Missoula for picture day. It is a pretty remarkable photo — five jet-powered air tankers that meet the basic U.S. Forest Service criteria to qualify as “next-generation” air tankers, which require the aircraft to be turbine or turbofan (jet) powered, be able to cruise at 300 knots (345 mph), and have a retardant capacity of at least 3,000 gallons.

Only one of these five air tankers has a confirmed contract with the federal government, the USFS. It is on a “legacy” contract. Neptune Aviation has three additional BAe-146s that are ready to fly now, and one more will be complete sometime this summer. The USFS is still dithering about what to do after the Government Accountability Office upheld the protest of a contract that was given to Neptune without competition for two BAe-146s. About the only options available now for the USFS are to add some of the BAe-146s to the legacy contract as additional equipment, ignore the GAO decision and honor the no-competition contract, or cancel the no-competition contract and do nothing about the other four Neptune BAe-146s that are sitting on the ramp at Missoula.

A very unlikely option would be for the USFS to allow competitive bidding on an additional contract. All of the existing valid legacy and next-gen contracts allow for up to four additional aircraft to be added as “additional equipment” to each line item. The vendors that won the awards for those contracts are all hoping to add more aircraft down the road, and would most likely be very distressed if another company came in that lost competitive bidding previously, and basically took away their opportunity to supply more air tankers.

But, it is painful to see four recently retrofitted, freshly painted, jet air tankers sitting on the tarmac — with a rather bleak future.

13 thoughts on “Neptune Aviation’s five BAe-146 air tankers”

  1. Yes

    A remarkable photo……reliving 20 yrs ago when one could see BAe 146 and RJ 85’s as regional jets……….

    You know ….Mesaba, Air Wisconsin (Air Whiskey) and a few more adding beauty if not function to busy ramp…..

    Hope Neptune does not suffer with ramp queens……

    1. When I was a firefighter in southern California I flew in and out of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field a number of times on Pacific Southwest Airlines’ (PSA) BAe-146s. They were favored then at San Diego because of the noise restrictions at the airport during hours when the nearby residents preferred to be sleeping, rather than tossing and turning when noisy aircraft took off and landed. Because they were quieter, the BAe-146s could be used at times when others could not.

  2. That’s a great shot. I’m sometimes disheartened by the pessimism shown on this forum as to the future of the air tanker fleet. Here you’ve got FIVE jet powered air tankers that are much safer than the “old” fleet. And the next article on the site showcases a company with 3 more jet aircraft ready to go. Add in 10TAC aircraft, Coulson C-130, the Aero Flite aircraft, and the Minden BAE and you’ve got a pretty remarkable jump in technology. No, it’s not new, purpose built aircraft. But it’s a step in the right direction. Safer, more reliable aircraft. Maybe not the end all be all, but it’s good progress.

    I hope that the USFS comes to a reasonable understanding with Neptune. Neptune has made the investment without guarantee and has shouldered a big portion of the aerial firefighting load over the last few years. They’ve got real, new technology sitting on the ramp ready to go. Long as the new tank performs they should be thought of as a leader in the industry IMO.

    1. I’ll second that. This company is leading the industry in hours flown with a NextGen platform. Be safe out there!

  3. Not really pessimism, Eric

    It is another “reality check.” “Newer” aircraft called “Next Gen” to the folks not really up on jet technology and the very fact that these are aircraft going from regional jet to Airtanker…………also known as aircraft NOT purpose built for Airtanker work…..

    Neptune, like others with a LOOOOOONG lineage of putting together aircraft not purpose built into an arena that everyone else has done, only with turbofan and turbojet power.

    No pessimism, just the hard cold facts of an industry that has sunk its own dollar with nary Federal support of any kind……hoping for a stable enough contract to recoup some of the costs associated.

    No lectures here, Eric. Do not know what aviation background or industry you come from, but one who has seen and towed and known folks who have flown and serviced this aircraft PRIOR to the BAe and RJ EVER coming on to the LAT scene……..I think many of including Neptune are uniquely qualified to both service, fly and critique the organization that may or will put these on contract and “manage” the fleet with little or no operational knowledge of the aircraft.

    These aircraft will deliver mud like many other aircraft have done in the past. Safer and reliable…….yep…….but in ten to twenty years these aircraft may or may not have the same fate as the P2V where some parts may have to be machined from blueprints…

    Do not kid yourself…….these aircraft will have a limited life like their predecessors and 20 to 30 years from now ….those chirps will reappear here as they did today.

    Safety and reliability……we will see when the SAFECOMS start coming in from FOD on the ramp, chip detectors, starter generators that do not come on line, APU’s that are known to fail at in opportune times, replacement APU’s and engines needing to be overnighted…………that stuff is coming and I am fairly sure Neptune got some of those contingencies already planned.

    No pessimism, Eric. Hard cold facts from the line maintenance field that the USFS has not even envisioned or even taken a note about, yet….

    Mark my words…..some here will back me up…..the (SJS) shiny jet syndrome will last only so long and wrenches start turning the novelty will start wearing offfff……..

  4. Ahhhh yes, Bill

    Noise restrictions……..Minneapolis, too and takeoff profiles to lower the noise profiles

    Yep……some jets were noisy yet the BAe and RJ were quieter and the advances were noticeable…..

    People adjusted back then and so did industry……now it’s the USFS turn to adjust…….they be bragging like their “safety record” about their jet air tankers and probably singing the old tune “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller Band at the same time…….

  5. I’m just a lot more glass half full type person I guess. Certainly there are challenges ahead that you bring up. Yes, the aircraft aren’t purpose built, but we know that realistically $$$$$ probably keeps that from EVER happening. So what do you do? Find the best platforms you can, build them into tankers, and keep improving. We can’t go backwards if you like it or not. C119’s , PB4Y’s, and DC6’s aren’t going to be seen over our skies. We’re moving forward, maybe not the exact bearing some of you think we should, but it’s better than what we’ve had by a long shot. My .02

  6. So, How many “Next-Gen”aircraft would we have in available if the USFS were to allow the full build out of additional equipment? 5 from Neptune (on the Legacy Contract), 10 from Erickson, 5 from Coulson, 5 from 10 tanker, 10 from Aero-Flite one Scooper (add 4 more as add ons?), and assuming they get approval 5 from Minden? That adds to 45, 52 with the USFS C-130s. That is a bright future, and time to start planning for a true Next Generation, when those airframes need retired, too.

    I doubt that all of the contractors would fill out all of their additional items, but I don’t see why 30 aircraft isn’t within easy reach by 2018. Add MAFFS for surge, and we could be in good shape.

    I actually see it as a relatively easy thing to do. The USFS needs to come to an agreement with the companies protesting the Sole Source Contract (and I think their protest is valid). Drop it, save everybody attorney fees, build out x number of Additional Aircraft. Come to an agreement with Neptune, let’s fly your ‘-146 aircraft as legacy. heck, most of that can happen for much of this summer.

  7. where are the other jets that were let contracts in 2013? How come they are not ready? why is the MAP adjusted for them?

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