USA — Washington, DC — .Neptune Aviation Services is responding to opportunities to provide aerial firefighting services outside the US for the first time, thanks to its growing fleet of BAe 146 jetliners, reconfigured by the operator as modern airtankers.
According to Ronald Hooper, Chief Executive Officer of the Missoula, Montana-based company, Neptune Aviation Services submitted a formal bid last January to provide one BAe 146 to the Australian National Fire Agency. If the bid is successful, the tanker would be deployed to Australia to assist in firefighting activity, along with a pilot, copilot, two mechanics, and a corporate liaison who would function as the interface between the company and the fire agency. The contract, said Hooper, would coincide with the length of Australias fire season, which runs from November through January. We expect to find out in August or September, if our bid is successful, he noted.
Hooper also reported that over the past few months, the company has fielded inquiries from the national firefighting agencies of Spain and Brazil. They know about our capabilities and approached us to ask about our interest in future contracts, he explained. We are now waiting for those governments to issue formal solicitations for firefighting contracts.
Currently, Neptune Aviation Services has two BAe 146 tankers flying under US Forest Service (USFS) legacy contracts, along with its remaining fleet of six Korean War-era P2V Neptunes. The twin-piston, former Navy patrol aircraft, are slated for retirement within five years. Those eight tankers have been working the wildland fires which have swept through Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Southern California this year.
Two more BAe 146s, undergoing installation of the 3,000 gallon capacity fire retardant tank system, are to be mission-ready by August of this year, while a fifth BAe 146 is being delivered for tank installation in July, with service entry planned for September.
As Hooper pointed out, unlike the P2V, the BAe 146 has a ferrying range of 1500 nautical miles, and can be easily repositioned to almost anywhere in the world. Along with this, there are no restrictions on where it can go.
Since the P2V is not a long range aircraft, it would require additional bladder tanks to fly it to many places outside of the US where it would be needed, he said. Also, since the P2V is still registered on the Department of Defense Munitions Control list, it cannot leave the United States. Those are the reasons why our aerial firefighting operations were strictly limited to the USup to now, said Hooper.
He added that, along with off-shore opportunities, Neptune Aviation Services is seeing potential business from State government firefighting agencies within the US. That, too, would be a new market for us, he said.
Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), praised Neptune Aviations decision to establish an international presence. With the BAe 146, they have successfully developed a modern air tanker that could be in demand worldwide as a fire suppression asset, said Eversole.
Neptune Aviation Services a member of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.