USA — Neptune Aviation Services deployed two of its BAe 146 air tankers to a wild land fire, which has scorched some 12,355 acres in Whiteshell Provincial Park, just east of Winnipeg.
The aircraft were dispatched by the US Forest Service (USFS), from tanker bases in Ely and Bemidji, Minnesota, on Tuesday, May 10. Both aircraft flew two missions on the fire, which was threatening high tension electric power transmission lines, according to Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of the Missoula, Montana-based company. Snyder reported that the two aircraft are among four BAe 146 tankers that Neptune currently has based in Minnesota, due to that state’s higher fire danger. The aircraft are now on standby to do additional cross-border deployments, if needed.
“This is the first time we have sent multiple BAe 146 air tankers into Canada on a single fire, though we used one of our BAe 146 tankers on a fire in Alberta Province last year,” Snyder remarked.
He reported that for each mission, the two aircraft left their bases fully loaded with 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, flew to the fire, and returned for another load within 75-90 minutes, depending on the base location.
“This illustrates the ability of the BAe 146 to transcend borders due to its long range, speed, and the fact that the aircraft holds standard transport category certification,” Snyder said. “Under that certification, the aircraft receives quick approval for cross-border operations by the government in whose airspace the aircraft will operate. In fact, our crews noted that both US and Canadian air traffic control organization were exceptional with their help and support of these tanker missions.”
Currently, Neptune Aviation Services flies seven BAe 146s, which it modified in-house for fire retardant dropping. The jet powered former regional airliners are gradually replacing the company’s seven remaining propeller-driven P2V Neptunes, which, as former military aircraft, cannot leave the US. Under current planning, the P2Vs, which date to the 1950s, will be mostly retired within two years.
“The BAe 146 air tanker program at Neptune Aviation Services was accomplished with the company’s own internal resources, without government funding, or contractual guarantees,” said George Hill, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association. “It is another example of how private enterprise continues to make an extraordinary contribution to wildland fire protection, especially during a time of more destructive and wid-ranging fires, brought about by climate change.”
Neptune Aviation Services is a member of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the privately operated aerial firefighting industry before Congress, and the Federal agencies involved with wild land management.