USA — Seven new next-generation airtankers for wildfire suppression are expected to be operating in time for the 2014 wildfire season, Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard said Nov. 5.
The Forest Service’s current airtankers are more than 50 years old on average. In February 2012, the agency released an airtanker modernization strategy document that says it intends to eventually have a fleet with between 18 and 28 large airtankers.
In May of this year, the Forest Service awarded seven contracts to five companies for next-generation airtankers. Only two of the contracts are currently performing, Hubbard told the a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittee, but he said he expects the other five to be brought into service in time for the upcoming wildfire season.
Five aren’t ready yet “because they’re dealing with with new planes and new systems, and it takes a while to make that work,” Hubbard said. If the airtankers prove successful, the Forest Service plans to add more of them and reduce its legacy fleet.
The next-generation airtankers can carry at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant and move at speeds of at least 300 knots while fully loaded. They are also turbine powered, which the Forest Service says makes them more reliable and easier to maintain than the engines in the older models.
The agency’s fiscal 2014 budget request included a $50 million increase to its preparedness budget to pay for new airtankers.