CWN contracts awarded for 22 next-gen air tankers

Coulson T-132 grid test
Coulson Aviation’s L-382G during the grid test in early May, 2015.

The U.S. Forest Service announced yesterday that they awarded Call When Needed (CWN) contracts to five companies for a total of 22 next-generation air tankers. Not all of the aircraft exist yet in flyable, modified, inspected, and carded form. In fact, we estimate only about half of them are ready to go now if the phone rang.

The companies receiving the six-year CWN contracts include:

  • Neptune Aviation, 6 BAe-146s
  • Coulson Aviation, 1 Lockheed L-382G
  • Air Spray USA, 4 BAe-146s
  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier, 5 DC-10s
  • Aero Flite, 6 BAe Avro 146 RJ85s

These CWN contracts are in addition to the 14 air tankers currently on Exclusive Use Contracts, and the additional aircraft that could be added, up to seven, when the bidding process that is being protested now is settled. Later this year there could be up to 21 air tankers on exclusive use contracts, plus the CWN aircraft on this contract that was just awarded. Many of the air tankers currently on exclusive use contracts are also listed on the new CWN contract, so there is some duplication.

An exclusive use contract commits an aircraft to working non-stop, except for days off, for an extended period of days, 160, for example.

However on a CWN contract the aircraft may never be used by the USFS. It could sit for years without being activated by the agency. That was one reason the 747 “Supertanker” ceased to exist. It was parked for years on a CWN contract and was not used.

This, of course, can be a very expensive and risky proposition for a private company. They have to decide if they are going to maintain the aircraft in a continuous airworthy condition and hire flight crews and maintenance personnel. The USFS thinks it’s a great deal since they spend nothing if an air tanker is not used. But even if a CWN aircraft had been at one time fully certified, by the time the USFS decides to activate it, the aircraft and the staff to operate it may or may not be ready to fight fire. And the CWN rates are usually much higher than a multi-year exclusive use contract.

Walt Darren, a legendary air tanker pilot who passed away a couple of years ago, suggested that CWN aircraft could be paid a stipend during the fire season even when they are not being used. This would make it a little more palatable for a company to keep an air tanker ready to go.

Ravi Saip, the General Manager and Director of Maintenance for Air Spray at Chico, California, said none of their BAe-146s are fully operational today. They are working on two of them, and hope to have one finished by the end of this fire season. He said most of the work is done on that aircraft, and they are working closely with British Aerospace on the cutouts in the belly through which the retardant will flow. In about two months they hope to begin flight tests, and they still need to get the FAA’s Supplemental Type Certificate and the Interagency AirTanker Board certifications.

Rick Hatton of 10 Tanker told us they have three completed DC-10s. Two are carded and are being used today on fires in California, T-911 and T-912. The third, which replaced and upgraded the older T-910, will retain that tanker number and is waiting for the USFS to issue their certification.

Britt Coulson of Coulson Aviation said they hope their recently converted Lockheed L-382G will be carded by the USFS next week. A civilian version of the C-130, it completed the grid test in early May.

The full list of air tankers receiving CWN contracts is below. Click on the image to see a larger version.

CWN air tanker contracts 2015

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5 thoughts on “CWN contracts awarded for 22 next-gen air tankers”

  1. Is there anything preventing a company transferring one or more aircraft on a CWN contract to an Exclusive Use contract during the six year term?
    What if it’s another agency (ie: not the USFS) that offers an EU contract (guaranteed revenue rather than possible revenue for the operator)? Would the USFS levy a penalty or consider the operator in default?

  2. Are these in addition to what is currently contracted? So, as I remember, those 15, plus an USFS C-130, plus 11 would make 27 for this season? Is the Scooper contract still in force?

    Also, CWN doesn’t pay if they are at their home base, do they get paid to pre-position? Would that ever happen? The more I think about it, the more questions come into my mind. I understand wanting to minimize costs, but someday somebody has to wonder if it’s important to do something to keep the contact tankers available.

    1. Currently there are 14 air tankers on exclusive use contracts. The new Next-Gen 2.0 contract that is being protested could add up to 7 more. If you count the single GO/CO HC-130H, that makes a total of up to 22 for the latter part of this season… not counting any CWN air tankers that may or may not be activated — if they are available, airworthy, crewed, maintained, etc.

  3. Bill – Not trying to be a pain, but why do they wait so long getting the contracts out? Doesn’t give the contractor much time to prepare an aircraft without going bankrupt having them sit around. Also why do they put aircraft that really aren’t operational on a CWN contract, what’s the point? Just to show numbers?

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