NWCG recommends standardization of call numbers for Air Attack platforms

Aero Commander
File photo of an Aero Commander 500.

The National Wildfire Coordination Group is pushing for a standard method of designating call signs of “Air Attack aircraft”. It is believed they are referring to aircraft used to coordinate aerial firefighting aircraft over wildland fires, rather than using a generic term for any aircraft that attacks fires.

Here is an excerpt from a memo the group sent, dated September 21, 2020:

NWCG requests assistance with the adoption of the call sign standard for Exclusive Use (EU) Air Attack platforms. The initial year implementation of the standard would be considered a beta test, with permanent updates planned for sequential years. Updates would include all appropriate documents and applications at the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC), Geographic Area Coordination Centers (GACC), and local dispatch centers. Implementation of the proposal will include updating Automated Flight Following (AFF) to display call signs. Additional points include:

  • Total Mobility (see National Interagency Mobilization Guide, Chapter 10) is supported through this proposal. The call sign standard provides information pertinent to resource movement and prioritization, and it distinguishes between EU and Call When Needed (CWN) platforms.
  • AFF will be updated with the new resource identifier call signs. For EU aircraft, the call sign stays with the platform while under contract.
  • CWN platforms will continue to use the last three characters of their registration number (N#).
  • Operationally, Air Attack platforms will continue to use incident call signs when assuming incident air attack (for example, AA-402 becomes Ranch Air Attack).

Below is description of the call sign standard for all interagency EU Air Attack call signs:

  • First Number: The Forest Service regional identification number where the platform is hosted (e.g., 1, 2, etc.).
  • Numbers Two and Three: Forest Service will use the two-digit number of the Forest that hosts the platform:
  • USFS: 0-29 Cooperating agencies will use the two-digit number assigned to the agency:
  • BLM: 30-39
  • BIA: 40-49
  • States, NPS, FWS: 50-99

NWCG typing for Unmanned Aerial Systems

erickson air-crane
An Erickson Air-Crane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group establishes the standards to describe the capabilities of firefighting aircraft, crews, and equipment. For example, a Very Large Air Tanker  must be able to carry at least 8,000 gallons of water or retardant, while a Type 4 air tanker carries less than 800. This makes it possible to order a resource that fits a specific need.

NWCG standards types aircraft
NWCG standards for types of aircraft, December 13, 2019. NWCG.

(Download the chart above)

The chart above is the latest released by the NWCG. The only significant changes I could detect are the addition of examples of resources and a new category of aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

With the increasing use of UAS, or drones, the organization felt the need to set up standards for these aircraft that have a wide variety of designs. The new requirements specify endurance, altitude for data collection, and maximum range. Surprisingly the NWCG did not establish a requirement for payload capacity. In the foreseeable future drones will be delivering supplies to firefighters in remote areas. It will be necessary to set up categories for aircraft that can carry 25 pounds, 6,000 pounds, or anything in between.