The Congressional Western Caucus Foundation held a gathering of 15 US Members of Congress and a number of congressional staff at the Santa Maria (SMX) US Forest Service Air Tanker Base in June. Hosted by the Central Coast Jet Center, the conference was organized to help the congressional leaders and their staff better understand the growing need for aerial fire protection, the importance of tanker bases in that effort, as well as to see multiple displays and water-drop demonstrations from a wide range of aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary wing. Participating operators included 10 Tanker Air Carrier, Neptune Aviation, Erickson Air Crane, Air Spray, Fire Boss, Columbia and Coulson Aviation.
‘Decades of land mismanagement, bureaucratic red tape, and historic drought conditions have resulted in an alarming increase in the number and severity of wildfires throughout the West,’ said Chairman Dan Newhouse (WA-04). ‘It’s critically important we understand and utilize all of the firefighting tools we have available, which includes aerial firefighting tankers and jets. Thank you to the Central Coast Jet Center for hosting our Members to learn how we can continue to collaborate and promote new, innovative technologies to combat these catastrophic wildfires and protect our communities.’
During the conference, congressional members heard from incoming Forest Service Chief Randy Moore as well as CAL FIRE Deputy Director Joe Tyler, among others. All discussed challenges with increasing wildfires, as well as the vital importance of being prepared with equipment, personnel and air tanker bases such as the one at Santa Maria Airport.
One of the areas highlighted to the members and staff at the facility was the recently installed Pit 4 which was added by Perimeter Solutions, the manufacturer of PHOS-CHEK, to help increase the Forest Service’s ability to respond with higher retardant capacity. ‘In 2020 alone, over 1,589,000 gallons of retardant were dispersed from the SMX Air Tanker Base,’ said Jim Kunkle, President, Central Coast Jet Center. ‘This puts SMX as one of the top five US Forest Service air tanker bases in the nation based on retardant throughput, so we were delighted to host this important event,’ he added.
The Central Coast Jet Center is a fixed-based operation (FBO) at SMX that not only serves the US Forest Service and general aviation but is also one of the few FBOs nationwide contracted with the US Government to offer rapid-refuel capabilities to both rotor and fixed-wing aircraft.