The Boeing 737-300 airliners formerly operated by Southwest Airlines that Coulson Aviation is converting into air tankers are physically capable of carrying up to 4,000 gallons of retardant or 70 passengers. The one the company sold to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia, Tanker 138, has been busy fighting bushfires since it was delivered in July.
The regulatory steps to get approval from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to carry passengers are under way, according to Richard Alder, General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre. Some of those milestones include changing the aircraft’s registration from the United States Federal Aviation Administration to CASA. That process may involve testing with a load of people acting as passengers to ensure that they can evacuate within the required time frame.
“We are required to have three flight attendants in the airplane due to the number of seats,” said Britt Coulson Vice President of Coulson Aviation. “We are still looking at options of who we are going to use to fulfill those positions.”
Passenger and baggage screening
One other detail that has to be worked out is whether the passengers and baggage are required to be screened by electronic devices or security personnel.
Passengers in the 737 air tanker in the United States
Stanton Florea, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said the contract for the 737 air tanker currently on a call when needed contract in the United States does not have any provision to fly passengers. We asked him if the Forest Service has any interest in using an air tanker that can also carry passengers, but have not received a response.
The NSW RFS Large Air Tanker (LAT) has made its first ever drop on the Lindfield Park Road fire at Port Macquarie this afternoon. The fire has flared in the strong winds however does remain behind identified containment lines. #NSWRFS #nswfires pic.twitter.com/YyXUQFXWpH
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) August 8, 2019