Above: T-10 (a BAe-146), another BAe-146, and an RJ85 (center) at La Grande, OR. Photo by Josh Annas.
The number of RJ85 and BAe-146 air tankers continues to grow. According to BAE Systems there are likely to be 18 of the aircraft that are operational by later this year and there are four more in various levels of conversion.
The two quad-jet aircraft are similar — both are made by BAE — and can carry up to about 3,000 gallons of retardant utilizing gravity to empty the tanks.
During the 2016 wildfire season the 14 in-service BAe 146-200s and Avro RJ85s of Neptune Aviation and Conair/Aero-Flite flew a combined total of over 5,800 tanker missions, dropping in excess of 12.5 million gallons of retardant.
A further eight BAe 146/Avro RJs are under conversion, with four scheduled to enter service during 2017.
Neptune Aviation’s fleet of seven BAe 146s flew a total of 2,880 hours on airtanker operations in the United States and Canada. Dan Snyder, Neptune’s Chief Operating Officer explained: “We are a US national resource. Wherever the US Forest Service has the need or request we can and do get dispatched”.
He added: “The yearly utilization average per aircraft varies greatly from year to year based on the fire season. Some years it is 200 hours per aircraft; others it can be 400 hours per aircraft. Fire operations in a day vary greatly as well. Some days there are no flights; some days only one. Sometimes it can be up to 10-15 missions a day. The distance to the fire, weather, and fire activity all affect this number.”
Seven of Neptune’s BAe 146s are under Exclusive Use Contracts with the USFS, along with four P2V Neptunes. An additional BAe-146 is contracted to CAL FIRE in California.
More recently, one of Neptune’s BAe 146s was on an assignment in Chile for several weeks.
Neptune has acquired and is converting a further two BAe 146-200s into airtankers to be ready for this year’s fire season.
Conair of Abbotsford, Canada, and its US subsidiary Aero-Flite, has a total of seven Avro RJ85s in service as airtankers, with an eighth aircraft under conversion ready for the 2017 fire season.
Four of Conair/Aeroflite’s RJ85s are earmarked for the 2017 Exclusive Use Contract with the USFS.
Jeff Berry, Conair’s Director of Business Development, stated that by early November the seven in-service aircraft had flown more than 430,000 km in support of wildfire operations on hundreds of fires in the United States and Canada during 2016. He added: “That is equivalent to a distance greater than 10 times around the world and the volume of retardant delivered to control wildfires was greater than the volume of six Olympic swimming pools.”
In addition, one of Conair’s RJ85s was recently deployed during the down under summer under contract to the State of Victoria to help in suppressing bushfires.