Rep. Adam Schiff questions the number of Type 1 helicopters on contract

Above: A Type 1 helicopter, an Air-Crane, makes a drop on the Draw Fire in South Dakota, July 24, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

When the U.S. Forest Service reduced the number of Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use (EU) contracts by 18 percent earlier this year, we were not aware of any significant outcry among influential individuals who care about wildfire preparedness.

For years there had been 34 Type 1 helicopters on EU. On February 26, 2016 the USFS issued another round of EU 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.

But this Spring six of those helicopters were not renewed for the 2017 wildfire season, reducing the number to 28. There are at least a couple of dozen other Type 1 ships that have Call When Needed (CWN) contracts, but they can’t be depended upon to always be available, waiting around at no cost for the phone to ring and a contract to be activated. They will seek other employment when not on an EU contract. And CWN aircraft cost the government more to operate than EU resources.

Last week Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell expressing concern over the decision by the Forest Service to change six Type 1 helicopters from EU to CWN.

“As we enter peak fire season in Southern California, I would like to know the implications of this decision on readiness and speed of response in the event of a fire, since as you are well aware, the speed of response can be the difference between a destructive wildfire and a controlled event,” Rep. Schiff wrote in the letter.

In March we asked Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, why there was a reduction in 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.

However, that Airtanker Modernization Strategy does not make an independent recommendation on the number of helicopters or air tankers that are needed. But it refers to a study conducted from 2007 to 2009, the NIAC Interagency Aviation Strategy, which concluded that the optimum number of Type 1 helicopters on EU was 34. It also recommended a total of 35 air tankers by 2018, which included three water-scooping air tankers.

fire Aviation Strategy
Screen grab from the 2007-2009 NIAC Interagency Aviation Strategy document. Phase III, page 21.

7 thoughts on “Rep. Adam Schiff questions the number of Type 1 helicopters on contract”

  1. Based on discussions in DC with a retiring USFS official about 90 days ago, it seems to be a case of “spin” due to sequestration, increasing costs and budget caps.

    As a subset of the USDA and people to man parks, trees and monuments, the small size of USFS fire aviation but an outsize percentage of the budget, the RW is competing against the scoopers on medium distance fires.


  2. Usually when more resources are needed ,someone will find a way to reduce their quantity. Perhaps if it were the b-crats that lost homes, would make a difference. Wonder if Erickson Aircrane will get contracts? Recall times when LACOFD had three Helitankers at Van Nuys, along with the CL415s that they would lease. Need More Type 1s, not fewer. And we Need those Hercs in service, not more “passenger jets” Sorry GST lovers-mile-long 400ft alt drops that make weak lines wont cut it. Remember The 19.

    1. Does Erickson qualify as a small business again after their bankruptcy restructuring?

      I think the Scoopers would be ideal for California.

      1. Wish I had recordings of the conversations where the AA ship on scene refused the CLs when they were offered.”we cant use those” was the refrain several times from AA12 and others. The County would use them on some Co-Fires, but the FS folks would not use them, as the Yellowbirds were not config to drop retardant. Don’t know how they operate present-day. And in my area today-another news-bit with the Kyrsten Sinema broad promoting the GST monsterjet thing again. The Hercs in-process are needed more than another high-dropper that makes poor lines, but looks good on TV. If they have a contract in Colo-why aren’t they there?? instead of sitting at Marana seeking PR ???? Better? belive that when it can drop at 100ft alt in mountainous terrain !

    2. Mr. Graber’s comment regarding the SuperTanker appears to have some incorrect assumptions. With 19,200 gallons of fire retardant, suppressant or water the SuperTanker is equal to 5 or more (depending on configuration) C130 (or civilian derivation) aircraft. As for altitude, the drop levels from the SuperTanker are accomplished at 200 feet above the tallest obstacle in the area, this is prescribed by the USFS and required in the US. However, the SuperTanker has flown lower level drops, where permitted, and still within the margin of safety. The SuperTanker has significant experience in mountainous terrain as well as grasslands. Does anyone truly believe flying 5 C130 aircraft, equal what one SuperTanker can dispense, is cost efficient; more important, time efficient? Different aerial tools are need for differing situations, but why wouldn’t you want the VLAT capability of the SuperTanker? If your house were on fire would you call the fire department and order the smallest, slowest fire truck? I hope not!

      1. Sorry, Mr Wheeler, not going to buy it. Bigger IS NOT Better. Remember the tree strikes when (10 was new?? Its not how much you drop, but whether its where the AA and IC want it, at the proper coverage level. ALL the VLATs drop at 200-400ft alts, far above the Target alt of 100-150ft alt. This was the std when Green Stoofs flew over my head. High-alt drops disperse in the wind and the turbulence from the acft. making weak lines that burn through. Need I remind folks that the acft that were working Yarnell were a VLAT and a MD87 (both”passengerjets”) Weak Lines= Burn-through=fire escapes the line= 19 Men are overrun and killed. A lot of tax $$$ for those VLAT cycles, and still lost a crew. As a former FF, and someone with 45yrs of aerospace mfg exper-NOOne will Ever convince Me that large “passenger jets” are the way to go. They Are NOT designed for STOL capability or low-alt performance. Mile-long 300ft high drops look good on video, but make poor lines that have to be doubled-up by other Tankers, that can fly low-and-slow. If I was young enough to be out on an Engine Crew, would rather have those Hercs with their gravity-tanks protecting me-they Will make Thick Lines- so we don’t have to deploy our jiffy-pop bags. Remember the 19. Plenty of video evidence shows poor VLAT drops that back up my claims. Even a recent incident when T-116 with its MAFFS spigot was used by the AA to double-up a poor line made by T-912.

  3. “Remember the tree strikes” Don’t know of many 400′ tall trees you refer to in regards to 400′ high drops. “Need I remind folks that the acft that were working Yarnell were a VLAT and a MD87 (both”passengerjets”) Weak Lines= Burn-through=fire escapes the line= 19 Men are overrun and killed.” It would serve you well to read the official report on the incident. To make an assumption that retardant lines that burned through caused the tragedy is a stretch.

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