All 13 under contract are expected to be working by May 19
The U.S. Forest Service has updated their schedule for large air tankers — the last one we had was dated March 14, 2020. This latest April 29 version still does not identify all tankers that will be working. Missing are two Neptune BAe-146s and one Aero Flite RJ85.
Oddly, they still have not corrected what appears to be two errors showing an RJ85 and a BAe-146 scheduled to begin their estimated Mandatory Availability Period (MAP) in May of last year.
According to this schedule, by Monday 10 of the 13 air tankers should have started their MAP — assuming the May 2, 2019 date for an Aero Flite tanker is supposed to be May 2, 2020, and the May 13, 2019 date for a Neptune tanker is actually May 13, 2020. All 13 are expected to be within their MAP by May 19.
This schedule includes Next Generation 1.0 and 2.0 contracts, but leaves out 3.0 since it is on hold after being protested by Neptune and 10 Tanker, companies that were ignored in this last round in which only five tankers received awards. Three companies received tentative contracts — Erickson Aero Tanker for two MD-87s, Aero Flite for two RJ85s, and Coulson for one 737. No very large air tankers received contracts in this last round, but we’ll have to see if that changes when the General Accountability Office rules on the protests. Their decision is due by July 15, 2020.
That means — only 13 Forest Service large air tankers are on contract for the entire United States until the GAO decision, after which the fleet could increase to 18. Each aircraft has one day off each week, so on most days two or three will be unavailable, dropping the numbers to about 11 and 16. If they stick to these numbers fast, aggressive, initial attack with overwhelming force is not going to be a reality as often as needed during this COVID-19 pandemic when there may be a reduction in firefighting capacity from ground forces, leading to more smoke in our atmosphere. New research suggests that the smoke firefighters breathe on the front lines of wildfires is putting them at greater risk from the COVID-19 virus, with potentially lethal effects.
These numbers of air tankers could be increased if:
- Congress adequately funds the aerial firefighting program.
- More than 5 air tankers receive Next Gen 3.0 contracts; (15 instead of 5).
- The Forest Service aggressively activates Call When Needed air tankers.
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Author: Bill Gabbert
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