Update on federal contracts for firefighting aircraft not yet awarded

Here is a list of pending, and still unawarded, federal contract solicitations that we are aware of for firefighting aircraft or equipment:

Purchase of one to seven NEW large air tankers. The USFS intends to spend some funds appropriated by Congress that were specifically earmarked for the purchase of at least one brand new air tanker. The specs call for an internal removable retardant tank that holds at least 3,000 gallons. A meeting was held in D.C. with interested potential vendors on August 26, 2015 to talk about the purchase. So far, only a draft synopsis has been issued. The omnibus federal appropriations bill that was passed in December by Congress included a provision to allocate $65 million for the U. S. Forest Service air tanker fleet. This effort may be to spend those funds. And it may never see the light of day in passed legislation, but there has been a proposal to allocate left over firefighting funds each year toward the purchase of new air tankers. That could be why they are talking, here, one to seven new large air tankers which could be spread over multiple years.

Amphibious Water Scooping Aircraft (the USFS refuses to call them “air tankers”). The USFS intends to award contracts for up to two water scoopers. Issued August 20, 2015. Response date: September 11, 2015.

Next Generation V. 2.0 Large Air Tankers. This will be the second batch of awards for next generation air tankers. They intend to contract for up to seven. Issued November 26, 2015. Response date was modified at least once; latest was: April 9, 2015.

Retardant Delivery System. This was issued by the Air Force to obtain retardant tanks for the seven HC-130H former Coast Guard aircraft the Air Force is putting through heavy maintenance and retrofitting as air tankers before they are transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. The solicitation was modified 14 times. Presolicitation was issued July 29, 2014. The response date was changed at least once; latest was May 15, 2015.

Air Tanker Base Facilities Assessment. This is only a Request for Information at this stage, but we assume that an actual solicitation will be issued at a later date. The purpose of the assessment is to determine possible locations for basing, at least in the winter, the seven HC-130H aircraft the USFS will be receiving from the Coast Guard after the heavy maintenance and air tanker retrofitting is complete. Issued September 2, 2015. Response date: September 25, 2015.

These are the solicitations we were able to find at FedBizOpps.gov for firefighting aircraft and related items. If you’re aware of others that are still pending, let us know.

UPDATE, September 28, 2015: In responding to Kenneth’s comment about options for new air tankers, we mentioned Lockheed Martin’s new LM-100J (the commercial version of the C-130J) which COINCIDENTALLY sells for about $65 million, the amount appropriated in the legislation. We wrote about the aircraft in December, 2014. In searching for a link to the LM-100J today, we found the following image in a promotional video on Lockheed’s website, which shows the aircraft spraying fire retardant from a pressurized Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS).

Lockheed's LM-100J
An artist’s conception of a Lockheed Martin LM-100J using a slip-in MAFFS to dispense fire retardant. Screen shot from Lockheed’s video.

Keep in mind that Mark Rey who oversaw the Forest Service as the former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment, has been a lobbyist for Lockheed Martin since he left the federal government in 2009 through that proverbial revolving door. The company hired him to lobby the Forest Service to buy the company’s “firefighting equipment”. Since 2009 Mr. Rey has been paid at least $432,000 by Lockheed Martin, according to Open Secrets.

2 thoughts on “Update on federal contracts for firefighting aircraft not yet awarded”

  1. Reviewing the USFS documents, a couple thoughts come to mind:

    1) I believe production of the Bombardier 415 was recently “paused” for lack of orders (this has happened before) but the company still owns two new amphibious water bombers registered in July 2015.

    2) Reading through the PowerPoint presentation for a New production USFS the specifications really seem to favour a C-130J … which doesn’t favour a price competition between OEMs … and will almost certainly result in a VERY expensive option for an aircraft that will only be flown 250 to 300 hours a year.

    3. The USFS specifications document says the aircraft must have a rear ramp and a 480” long x 108” wide x 103” tall cargo hold … but honestly how much cargo are these New aircraft going to carry each year justify the added expense of a rear ramp?

    4) The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is currently engaged is a procurement program to replace its de Havilland DHC-5 Buffalo and older C-130H search and rescue aircraft with a new turboprop transport. The insistence on an aircraft with a rear ramp has narrowed the short list to just three in-production aircraft:
    – Lockheed Martin C-130J (approx cost $67 million)
    – Italian Alenia C-27J Spartan (approx cost $53 million)
    – Spanish Airbus C-295 (approx. cost $28 million)
    The Canadian procurement campaign has been dragging on for many years with the RCAF previously favouring the middle ground C-27J … and could lead to a split order to serve southern and Arctic mission profiles.

    4) If you discard the rear ramp requirement for the new turboprop, there are only two large commercial turboprop aircraft in production today in the West that could potentially be converted into air tankers – the ATR72-600 and the Bombardier Q400.

    5) In France … the home of the ATR production line … the national Protection Civile fire fighting agency flies two Bombardier Q400MR air tankers equipped with an external gravity tank developed by Conair that can carry up to 2,642 US gallons (10,000 litres) of retardant. The French Q400MRs also have a full passenger interior with cargo/combi capability and cruise at a max speed of 360 kts. The Bombardier plant here in Toronto (where I live) has delivered more than 500 Q400s to airlines around the world (list price $30 million)

Comments are closed.