Above: Columbia BV-107 at Custer, SD July 31, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
(Originally published at 7:12 p.m. MST March 3, 2017; updated with more details at 10:43 a.m. MST March 4, 2017)
The U.S. Forest Service is reducing from 34 to 28 the number of large Type 1 helicopters that are on exclusive use (EU) wildland firefighting contracts.
On February 26, 2016 the USFS issued exclusive use contracts to 13 companies for a total of 34 Type 1 firefighting helicopters. The contracts were initially effective for one year, through April 30, 2017, with the possibility of three one-year renewal option periods.
Six of those helicopters are not being renewed. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said those six ships are two K-MAX BK-1200’s, two Boeing Vertol 107’s, and two CH-54A’s (Air-Crane type helicopters).
This list shows the helicopters that are being cut along with the administrative base and operator for each aircraft.
- Prineville, Oregon (BK-1200) Swanson Group Aviation
- Helena, Montana (BK-1200) Central Helicopters
- Hamilton, Montana (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
- Custer, South Dakota (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
- Lancaster, California (CH-54A) Siller Helicopters
- Minden, Nevada (CH-54A) Helicopter Transport Services
Type 1 helicopters are frequently moved around depending on fire danger and incident activity and are often not at their home base.
Type 1 helicopters are the largest that are used for firefighting and can carry from 700 to 2,500 gallons of water. They can be extremely effective in assisting firefighters on the ground if they are prepositioned in order to be quickly available on initial attack. They are also very helpful in support of fire crews on extended attack when building line with hose lays or hand tools, allowing ground personnel to work closer to the fire’s edge. Reducing this capability could allow fires to grow larger or escape initial attack.
Ms. Jones explained the agency’s rationale for cutting the number of Type 1 helicopters:
At this time, the agency has determined 28 to be the appropriate number of Type 1 helicopters on EU contracts given current types and numbers of other aircraft in the fleet. This is in line with the 2012 Airtanker Modernization Strategy.
She said “Up to 30 additional Type 1 helicopters” are on Call When Needed contracts, which includes the six that no longer have EU contracts. CWN aircraft can’t be depended upon to always be available at no cost, waiting for the phone to ring and a contract to be activated. They will seek other employment when not on an EU contract. The daily and hourly cost for CWN ships are usually much higher.