Forest Service awards contracts for five exclusive use air tankers

Next-Generation 3.0 contract

air Tanker 163 an RJ85
Aero Flite’s Tanker 163, an RJ85, at Rapid City December 2, 2017 while working the Legion Lake Fire. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Today the U.S. Forest Service announced contract awards for five large exclusive (EU) use air tankers. Three companies received contracts — Erickson Aero Tanker for two tankers, Aero Flite for two, and Coulson for one.

The tankers operated by the companies include MD-87s by Erickson Aero Tanker and RJ85s by Aero Flite. Coulson flies C-130s and B737s but this contract is for Tanker 137, a B737. The estimated total value of the contracts are, Erickson Aero Tanker $70.5 M, Aero Flite $80.4 M, and Coulson $41.5 M.

The solicitation for the Next Generation 3.0 air tankers was first posted 494 days ago on November 19, 2018. There are approximately three seasons left for the six aircraft on the Next Gen 1.0 contract, so the Forest Service should begin today working on Next Gen 4.0.

These 5 large EU air tankers will be added to the existing fleet of 13 (see the chart below published March 11), to bring the total up to 18. Earlier the Forest Service said they would have “up to 18” on EU contract this year. There are 17 large air tankers left on call when needed (CWN) contracts that can be activated, but at hourly and daily rates much higher than those on EU. At the time of the CWN award in December some of those tankers only existed on paper.

Schedule large air tankers on USFS exclusive use contracts 2020
Schedule for large air tankers that are on USFS exclusive use contracts, updated March 11, 2020 by USFS.

Since 2013 the number of large air tankers on Forest Service EU contracts at the beginning of each fire season varied from 9 in 2013 to 21 in 2016 and 2017. From 2000 to 2002 there were 40 to 44.

Usage of large air tankers, 2000-2019
Usage of large air tankers, 2000-2019. Revised 2-24-2020. Fire Aviation.
air tankers Durango MD87
Erickson Aero Air’s T101 and T103, MD87s, at Durango, CO May 28, 2018. Photo by Dave Herdman.
coulson 737 air tanker dropping
Coulson 737 air tanker.

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18 thoughts on “Forest Service awards contracts for five exclusive use air tankers”

  1. Bill, your journalism expertise and thoroughness are truly remarkable and appreciated. I follow your posts religiously.
    Hans Laetz, KBUU Radio, Malibu

  2. The information I have is that T137 is a next gen 1 already on contract. Also, wouldn’t the additional 5 come from the CWN fleet, making a total of 30 available?

    1. The number of air tankers on CWN contract is confusing. I just double-checked with the USFS and there are 18 large air tankers now on EU contracts and 17 that have CWN contracts that don’t also have EU contracts. Most if not all of the EU aircraft also have CWN contracts, so sometimes the numbers are misleading.

      Jeff, the information that T-137, a B737, is on the Next Gen 3.0 contract came from Britt Coulson, of Coulson Aviation. The company’s T-131, a C-130Q, was on the Next Gen 1.0 contract, but part of last year T-137 seemed to substitute for it.

  3. 1-American companies first then backfill.
    Absolutely ridiculous Aeroflite gets two.
    2-The USFS has dropped the ball yet again.
    FS WO management fails it’s own people in aviation , fails the contractors and therefore, fails the boots on the ground.
    More tankers are needed, period.

    1. I believe Aeroflite has been a US company since being founded, it’s based in Spokane, WA and employs 100+ US citizens full time.

        1. Sorry, but ……

          The firefighter on the ground does not care if the water, foam or retardant came from a Canadian-owned, or Canadian designed aircraft. Heaven forbid a Russian aircraft shows up!

          Is the tool effective? If it is, use it!
          Homeowners are also not concerned with the registration!

      1. Yes Ryan, you are correct. It is a US company and is, as it always has been incorporated in the State of Wyoming. Aero-Flite employs over 140 people that are local or have moved from Idaho, Montana and many other areas. I see Aero-Flite did get two airtankers on as did Erickson Aero.
        As Todd said, I wish there were more airtanker contracts out.
        Good luck to all the vendors – fixed and rotor for a safe season.

    1. Sorry Todd, you are incorrect. Aero-Flite is managed by Americans. A quick check of their web-site you will find the management team. All are Aero-Flite employees from when they were in Kingman, AZ, ex FS/BLM employees and a US Navy pilot. The company is full of ex-military personnel from the US and long time employees from the US aviation industry. It is true that Conair owns Aero-Flite. You are correct there. Curious, I don’t see any comments about Coulson who has several US contracts and they are Canadian. Maybe you have something against Aero-Flite? I don’t know. But the people at Aero-Flite are proud Americans just like many people in other airtanker company’s.
      The protests will sort things out.

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