The U.S. Forest Service will have 13 large air tankers (LATs) under exclusive use contracts for this year according to the latest information from the U.S. Forest Service as of April 12, 2019. They will be working under the Next Generation Air Tanker contracts, versions 1.0 and 2.0.
Currently six of them have been activated according to the estimated starting dates of the Mandatory Availability Periods (MAP). On April 17 a seventh will begin. The rest will come on between May 1 and May 29.
The 13 air tankers confirmed so far on exclusive use contracts for 2019 are:
- 10 Tanker Air Carrier: 910 and 912 (DC-10)
- Coulson: 131 (C-130Q)
- Aero Air: 101 and 107, (MD-87)
- Aero Flite: 160, 161, 163, and 167 (RJ85)
- Neptune: 01, 15, 16, and 40
All 13 are slated for 160 MAP days but could be extended if necessary.
The baker’s dozen aircraft are likely to be augmented in the not too distant future when the Next Gen 3.0 contract advertised December 2, 2018 is awarded for exclusive use LATs. Forest Service officials are currently going through the submissions which had to be submitted by Valentine’s Day. The solicitation only had five line items, so it appears that a maximum of five air tankers could be added to the contract list, bringing the total up to 18 for this summer.
Recently the FS has been awarding contracts that only guarantee one year, with another four being at the whim of the agency. This makes it very difficult for potential vendors to acquire financing and build multimillion dollar air tankers that may not receive a contract, and if they do, it could only be for one year. Last year the Canadian Province of Manitoba awarded a 10-year contract for the management, maintenance, and operation of their fleet of seven government-owned water-scooping air tankers (four CL-415s and three CL-215s), supported by three Twin Commander “bird-dog” aircraft.
The Forest Service Aviation Strategy Implementation 2018-2022 dated March, 2018 established that the plan for the number of exclusive use large air tankers and helicopters would be exactly the same during fiscal years 2019 through 2022:
- 18 large air tankers (down from 44 in 2002)
- 28 Type 1 helicopters (down from 34 a few years ago)
- 34 Type 2 helicopters
- 46 Type 3 helicopters
If there is a need for more than 18 LATs, approval of orders for Call When Needed (CWN) ships must be first approved by the Washington Office of the FS. This cost saving effort that began in 2018 is intended to create greater accountability and oversight for aircraft. There are probably more than a dozen large air tankers sitting on ramps over and above the 13 presently on contract for this year.
UPDATE April 17, 2019: The VLAT CWN solicitation has been effectively cancelled, but changes made to the LAT CWN solicitation with responses due tomorrow made it possible for VLATs to meet the contract specifications, so they can be considered along with the LATs. The USFS made so many changes to the solicitation, 12 amendments, that they are calling it CWN 2.1 Request for Proposals. The response due date, originally in the summer of 2018, has been extended at least nine times.