USA–– Airtanker Operator Expands Fleet Modernization as Fire Season Rages
Washington, DC Neptune Aviation Services has added a second modified BAe 146 airliner to its growing fleet of next generation airtankers. That aircraft, which was delivered in July and promptly deployed on aerial firefighting missions throughout the Western US, has wracked up nearly 35 flight hours to date.
Neptune Aviation Services, which is the largest private US airtanker operator, took delivery of its first BAe 146 in October 2011. After nearly a year in service, the aircraft has flown more than 220 hours, with most of those hours during one of the worst fire seasons in history in the American West.
Both aircraft, which are powered by four Honeywell ALF 502 turbojet engines, were configured for aerial firefighting with a 3,000 gallon capacity tank system by Tronosjet Maintenance of Slemon Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Long term, Neptune expects to have as many as 11 of the former regional airliners in airtanker service, as replacements for its aging fleet of seven, ex-Navy, twin-piston engine-driven P2V Neptunes. According to Neptune Aviation Services President Dan Snyder, the company expects to have an additional one or two in service during 2013, depending upon the needs of the US Forest Service (USFS).
After nearly a year of operating the BAe 146 tanker, we can report that the airplane has performed as well as, if not better, than expected, said Snyder. It has fit very well into the existing tanker ground support and fire traffic control infrastructure, although there are some differences with ground support equipment compared to the P2Vs. He also noted that the improved BAe 146 wheel loading provides for less wear and tear on most airport ramps and taxiways.
Neptune Aviation Services is also considering changing its current maintenance support model for the aircraft by placing mechanics and other ground support crews at regional maintenance facilities for BAe 146 field support, over a wider area than can be covered by its mobile technician teams over the road. As Snyder explained, the line repair expertise for the BAe 146 has virtually disappeared from the US, since the airplane is no longer in service with US commercial carriers.
Currently, eight of the company’s P2V pilots have been trained on the BAe 146 airtanker, while another four are going through the ground school at Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula. The ground school is being directed by a former Air Wisconsin instructor pilot. The simulator portion of training is conducted at Oxford Training Academy in the UK. The pilots get a BAe 146 type rating, following a successful check ride in the airplane with a Neptune examiner pilot.
Neptune Aviation Services is a member of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), the Washington-based trade association representing the commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.