On Monday May 4 the U.S. Forest Service distributed a list of the companies that are expected to receive Exclusive Use (EU) contracts for 28 Type 1 helicopters, the largest helicopters that are used for suppressing wildland fires. According to information Fire Aviation received from two sources, 13 companies received contracts. One helicopter vendor told us that a protest is likely, which could delay the activation for several months, news that comes just as the wildfire season is picking up in the Southeast and Southwest. If there is a protest it is possible that the 28 helicopters could not be activated until mid-August, after the wildfire season is about 3/4 over.
Stanton Florea, a Fire Communications Specialist who works out of Boise told us, “The official public announcement [about the contract] is scheduled for Tuesday, May 19th.”
When the 2016 four-year Type 1 EU helicopter contracts were awarded, they committed to spending an estimated $594 million dollars of taxpayers’ funds.
Below are the companies that are slated to receive the new four-year EU contracts, with the number of helicopters they will be providing. This list could change if there are protests:
- Billings Flying Service, 2
- Brainerd Helicopters, Inc. dba Firehawk, 1
- Central Copters, 4
- Coulson Aviation, 1
- Croman, 5
- Helicopter Transport Services, 5
- Helimax Aviation, 2
- Heliqwest International, 1
- Mountain West Helicopters, 1
- P.J. Helicopters, 1
- Rainier Heli International, 1
- Rotak, 2
- Timberline Helicopters, 2
Here is the list of Type 1 contracts awarded during the previous contracting procedure in 2016:
- Billings Flying Service: 2
- Central Copters: 2
- Columbia Helicopters: 5
- Croman Corporation: 2
- Firehawk Helicopters: 4
- Helicopter Transport Services: 5
- Helimax Aviation: 2
- Mountain West Helicopters: 1
- Heliquest International: 2
- Rainier Helicopter International: 1
- Swanson Group Aviation: 2
- Siller Helicopters: 4
- Timberline Helicopters: 2
The FS has refused to release any information about the unusual 30-day contracts that were reportedly given to a handful of helicopter companies a couple of weeks ago, or disclose what procurement process and authority was used.
When contracts were issued for 34 EU Type 1 helicopters in 2013 the U.S. Forest Service refused to divulge which companies received them. We first asked for the information on April 16, 2013, hoping to receive it well before the western wildfire season got underway. We were told that the list was only available if we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which we did. After many delays, countless emails, excuses, and being sent incorrect information, we finally received it September 26, 2013 as the western wildfire season was beginning to wind down and more than five months after asking for it.
A FOIA was not required after the next round of Type 1 EU helicopter contracts in 2016. The agency signed up and employed 34 ships the first year of that four-year contract, but later used the “optional year” provision to reduce the number to 28. This year the agency just went straight to 28 ships under EU contract, with no possibility of having 34.