Minden firm receives new firefighting deal

Minden firm receives new firefighting deal

29 March 2013

published by www.rgj.com

USA — A large but aging air tanker owned by a Minden-based company will be battling flames from the sky this fire season under a new government contract announced Thursday, while the firm is completing work on another new tanker it plans to put into service for the coming summer as well.

This P2V-7 air tanker operated by Minden Air Corp. will continue firefighting duties under a new contract. / Provided to the RGJ

Minden Air Corp.’s twin-engine P2V-7 tanker is one of eight big tankers approved to battle wildfires on federal land under an arrangement announced by U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

This year will be the first of five under the so-called “legacy” contracts approved between the government, Minden Air and Missoula, Mont.-based Neptune Aviation Services Inc., which operates the other seven aircraft.

“These legacy air tankers will continue to be part of our overall strategy as we prepare for another busy season of wildfires,” Tidwell said.

Air tankers, dropping clouds of chemical fire retardant, play a key role in fighting wildfires and typically are employed in the early stages of a fire to slow its spread and allow firefighters on the ground to work to contain the blaze.

The bigger tankers join the government’s aerial fleet of single-engine air tankers, water-dropping helicopters and other aircraft used to battle fires.

Minden Air’s P2V-7 tanker, a retro-fitted anti-submarine aircraft, has been used for about 20 years to fight fire, said Leonard Parker, the company’s chief executive officer. The aircraft can carry a load of about 2,000 gallons of fire retardant.

The company also is in the process of finishing its retrofit of a jet-powered passenger plane, a BAE-146, which has cruising speed of about 380 mph, or more than 160 mph faster than the older P2V-7. The newer plane can carry a load of about 3,000 gallons of retardant.

Parker said he expects the new tanker will be put into service for the coming fire season under a separate “next gen” contract with the government he expects to be approved within the next 30 days or so.

Ultimately, Parker said, the BAE-146 will prove an effective and needed replacement to older large tankers like the P2V-7.

“The industry is obviously in a transitional phase. This is what we think will carry the industry forward for the next 20 years,” Parker said. “The P2V has provided good service, but you reach a point where it’s time to move on.”

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