New air tanker base to be constructed in Colorado Springs

It is expected to open in 2021

Tanker 944, a 747-400
Tanker 944, a 747-400, at the Colorado Springs airport, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The City of Colorado Springs and the US Forest Service are going to build a new permanent air tanker base at the Colorado Springs Airport.

On January 24, the Forest Service signed a lease agreement with the Colorado Springs Airport. The two agencies will share the costs for construction and maintenance, currently budgeted at approximately $20 million.

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” said Forest Service Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien.

The one-and-a-half-acre base will create six reload pits for any type of contracted air tanker, including Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10 and 747. It will be the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius — including Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will have the ability to reload multiple airtankers at once. This will allow an increased amount of retardant to be sent to a wildfire faster and with greater efficiency. It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire in the area, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions.

The new eight-acre ramp to be built will be near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. During the winter months when the Forest Service is not using it, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft.

The Forest Service has occasionally set up a temporary retardant base at the Colorado Springs Airport that had two pits and parking for six aircraft. The only permanent base in Colorado for large air tankers has been JEFFCO at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport near Denver. It has two pits but can fill only one air tanker at a time and can’t handle Very Large Air Tankers.

Vanessa Lacayo, the Acting Press Officer for the Forest Service  Rocky Mountain Region, said the agency has no plans to close any other bases, including Single Engine Air Tanker Bases, after opening this new facility at Colorado Springs.

The Air Force Reserve base at Colorado Springs airport can activate two C-130 aircraft to serve as air tankers if needed, using the slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System, or MAFFS.

The headquarters for Global Supertanker is in Colorado Springs and their 747 Supertanker is sometimes parked at the airport.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new base is scheduled for spring 2020. Construction is set to begin this summer, with completion and a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2021.

Congress awarded the Forest Service funding for the project as part of the 2018 Omnibus Bill that repurposed previous allocations to the agency’s Aviation Safety and Modernization Strategy. The Department of Agriculture prioritized the Colorado Springs Airtanker Base as one of the highest investments for Aviation Safety Modernization Projects, representing nearly one-fourth of the $37.2 million budget. The City of Colorado Springs is providing additional funding through a partnership agreement.

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2 thoughts on “New air tanker base to be constructed in Colorado Springs”

  1. That’s great news about the new permanent base in Colorado Springs. Excellent positioning and Fed (taxpayer) money well spent. I believe Durango and Grand Junction have the same ramp and retardant capacity as JEFFCO but have the advantage of loading two at a time.

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