USA –– WASHINGTON — U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced today that the U.S. Forest Service has awarded contracts to four companies to provide a total of seven next generation airtankers for wildfire suppression.
The announcement follows the President’s signature of S. 3261 earlier today, a bill which cleared the House and Senate this week that expedites the Forest Service contracting process that had been underway.
“This is a major milestone in our efforts to modernize the large airtanker fleet, which plays a vital role in wildfire suppression,” said Chief Tidwell. “As we mourn the recent loss of two airtanker pilots, we must continue to meet our responsibility to be prepared to respond vigorously to wildfires threatening lives, communities, and cultural and natural resources.”
The contracts being executed today are the result of a comprehensive effort by the Forest Service to replace its aging airtanker fleet. The Forest Service initiated the process to develop and issue these contracts last fall. In February, the Obama Administration, led by the Forest Service, issued a Large Airtanker Modernization Strategy and the President included $24 million in the 2013 budget for this purpose.
The exclusive use contracts were awarded to Neptune Aviation Services, Inc. of Missoula, Mont.; Minden Air Corporation of Minden, Nev.; Aero Air, LLC in Hillsboro, Ore.; and Aero Flite, Inc. of Kingman, Ariz.
The agency was required by statute to wait to award these contracts for 30 days after notifying Congress of its intent to award them. However, the agency’s request to Congress to waive a waiting period required by the Federal Acquisition Regulation was supported by Sen. Wyden and other lawmakers and enabled the agency to accelerate the contracting of the aircraft.
“We commend the House and Senate for moving Senator Wyden’s bill through both chambers so quickly,” said Tidwell. “These contracts will provide three new airtankers for our fleet this summer and four more the following year. In what’s already shaping up as serious fire season, it is essential to have modernized new tankers joining our fleet.”
Under the contracts, the four companies will provide three next generation airtankers in 2012 and four next generation airtankers in 2013 as follows:
– Neptune Aviation Services, Inc. will provide 2 BAe-146s in 2012; – Minden Air Corporation will provide 1 BAe-146 in 2012 and 1 BAe-146 in 2013; – Aero Air, LLC will provide 2 MD87s in 2013; and – Aero Flite, Inc. of Kingman, Arizona will provide 1 Avro RJ85 in 2013.
The contracts allow these companies to provide additional next generation airtankers in 2013, 2014, and 2015 contingent on funding and other circumstances.
The contracts are for a base period of five years, with five one-year options for contracts awarded for 2012 and four one-year options for contracts awarded for 2013.
All of the next generation airtankers are turbine powered, can carry a minimum of 2,400 gallons of retardant, and have a cruise speed of at least 300 knots when fully loaded. The companies that are providing them are required to comply with stringent safety requirements in their contracts.
The U.S. Forest Service is working with Neptune Aviation Services, Inc. and Minden Air Corporation to bring the three BAe-146s into service by late summer. Both companies currently hold exclusive use contracts with the U.S. Forest Service to provide airtankers for wildfire suppression.
Federal wildfire officials, including the Forest Service, USDA, DHS and FEMA, continue to monitor wildfires in the Western states while thousands of first responders and firefighters from local, state, federal and tribal agencies suppress fires in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Federal agencies have made about 5,000 firefighters available to suppress fires so far.
On Monday, the Forest Service announced the agency has mobilized eight additional aircraft to its firefighting fleet to ensure that an adequate number of airtankers are available for wildland firefighting efforts. With these additional airtankers, the Forest Service has 16 large airtankers and one very large airtanker available immediately for wildfire suppression. The Forest Service has the capability to mobilize an additional 11 large airtankers, should circumstances require it. The new airtanker contracts announced today will supplement these aircraft.
Additionally, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior fire agencies can mobilize hundreds of helicopters and dozens of smaller aircraft, called “single-engine airtankers.”