The U.S. Forest Service has published a solicitation asking for bids that could add up to 30 helicopters to the firefighting fleet this summer.
Published April 22, the solicitation has a very quick turnaround date, with offers due April 27, 2020. In order to be eligible for this opportunity, parties applying must already have one of the 68 current Call When Needed agreements in place.
The Forest Service is asking for pricing proposals for Type 1 and 2 helicopters which would be available for a 90-day Mandatory Availability Period commencing on either June 1st or June 15th.
As we wrote April 22, the four-year exclusive use contracts for Type 1 firefighting helicopters issued in 2016 expire April 30. Since new contracts based on the solicitation issued November 15, 2019 have not yet been awarded the Forest Service has given 30-day contracts to a handful of vendors. The agency has refused to provide to us any details about the 30-day contracts.
Since many of their procurement actions for firefighting aircraft are protested, delaying activation for several months, these 90-day contracts for up to 30 helicopters may be a safety net in case of a protest. If a company receives one of the Type 1 EU contracts, the Forest Service “will then remove your awarded helicopter from consideration for this one-time [90-day] opportunity.”
On April 6, 2018 the Forest Service awarded EU contracts for 34 Type 2 firefighting helicopters. The duration was for one base year through April 30, 2019, with the possibility of 3 one-year renewal option periods. The U.S. Forest Service has shown by how they manage the air tanker and Type 1 helicopter contracts that the option periods are definitely not a sure thing after cutting those aircraft during recent optional years.
This possible increase in the number of helicopters is presumably a response to what could a diminished firefighting capability during the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 23 Fire Aviation called for a large increase in the numbers of aviation resources:
Congress needs to appropriate enough funding to have 40 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. Until that takes place and the aircraft are sitting on ramps at air tanker bases, all 17 of the large air tankers on call when needed contracts need to be activated this summer. Right now, only one large air tanker is working.
Several years ago the number of the largest helicopters on EU contracts, Type 1, were cut from 34 to 28. This number needs to be increased to 50. Until that happens 22 CWN Type 1 helicopters should be activated this summer.
If this temporary increase in the Type 1 and Type 2 helicopter fleets actually occurs, unimpeded by contract protests, it is the right thing to do.
The next action that needs to be taken is a similar increase in the fixed wing fleet this summer.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Sean. Typos or errors, report them HERE.