Is Washington policy conducive to a stable civil AFF industry?

Fireplanes Editorial – Austin,  Texas  05/30/2012

Does the U.S. have a fire department of sorts?  Not really.  Fire departments kill fires.

The U.S. Forest Service,  has a “fire management” (or mis-management) policy that is letting wildfires get out of control.  Other countries kill fires, while the U.S. manages fires.  But are they managed in time for effective control?   Washington’s priorities are all wrong, from whatever perspective one holds.  We hold our skin in high regard, as well as our homes, pets, crops, timber and livestock too.  And when a fire breaks out, do we call the “fire department”?     Silence . . .  Is the “National Fire Dept.” closed?

“Busy” at least.   Be prepared to wait in line.  With only eleven civilian  large  air tankers, – or  “LATs  in the American inventory,  the ancient P2 Neptune fleet is stretched thin.

When it comes to a national crisis in wildfire containment  we now have almost no one to call as it seems the U.S. Forest Service has arguably caused the demise of at least one viable Aerial Fire Fighting (AFF) company.  Executives at the Forest Service claim safety concerns, but that claim has reportedly been brushed off by airworthiness experts who  examined the company’s former P3 fleet.  “You will not see the P3 Air Tankers in service again in the USA”, according to Tony Morris of the Wildfire Research Network.

Now that all of Aero Union’s  converted P3 air tankers have been grounded and the company is bankrupt,  nobody supports the USAF’s  “MAFFS”  systems as installed on a number of C-130s.  Why?  Aero Union developed and supported the MAFFS system, which drops fire retardants on wild fires.   The technology may be tied up in a lawsuit (which Fireplanes will investigate further).  So is the Air National Guard going to put out fires this year?  They will, until all their MAFFS units are inoperative or a new system is developed,  deployed, supported and maintained.   Meanwhile,  the wind is up and we can all smell the smoke.

MAFFS

Above:   A California Air National Guard C-130 lays – down fire retardant with “MAFFS”.

And what about those Very Large Air Tankers, called; “VLATS” (or, Vee-LATS) in the AFF trade?  Evergreen operates a 747 Air Tanker with amazing capabilities.   “10 Tanker” has the modified DC-10.   According to our sources, Small Business set-asides are hurting Evergreen.   It costs a LOT of money to maintain heavy aircraft, and when the contract disappear,  companies go belly-up.

The AFF industry is a diverse collection of equipment,  systems and chemicals, so there are more acronyms.  Single-Engine-Air-Tankers, or; “SEATS” are in the mix,  along with “Scoopers” which are “amphibians” or “sea planes”, depending on whether they can take off on water and land or not.  We don’t want to fail mentioning helicopters,  new – tech drones, and environmentally friendly foams and gel retardants on which we are preparing reports to be released soon.

Seaplanes in use today include the Martin Mars owned by the Coulson Group in British Columbia.   Wayne Coulson’s Martin Mars services are amazing, but not available just now.   It appears to this writer – the U.S. Forest Service deemed it unimportant to keep the amazing Mars on contract, so the plane is now in Mexico saving lives and property while fires rage out of control in U.S. states.

“Scoopers” include the Canadian Bombardier CL-215 and modern turbine powered,  CL-415 today.  There are some foreign competitors, but not yet certified by Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) nor the Federal Aviation Administration.  It has been many months since the makers of one of those planes – a jet powered amphibian known as the BE-200 “Altair” from Russia filed for a restricted type certificate same as that granted by the E.U.   And why is anyone dragging their feet while American lives and property are in immediate peril?

Why?   ….  And, will memories of the 2012 NBA playoffs fade past the Baseball World Series with nary a mention of lives lost due to the failures of  bureaucrats and politicians?   Most likely.

Has Congress failed to notice another lost American industry?  Yes.

Can we imagine a better situation?  Yes again.   So here’s what you can do:

Tell them all;

CONGRESS: 

Give the U.S. Forest Service a $5 Billion Aerial Fire Fighting program budget.

Encourage tax – deductible contributions to support regional wildfire mitigation.

U.S. Forest Service:  

Develop and grant long – term contracts to companies like 10 Tanker and Evergreen.

Issue contracts to companies that will operate NEW aircraft to be bought and owned by the Federal Government and operated by contractors under “GOCO” cost-plus terms lasting 5 – 10 years at a minimum.

If possible, BUY – the current MAFFS technology from Aero Union’s owners,  the Bankruptcy court, or perhaps the bank holding it in receivership,  then issue cost-plus contracts on a competitive basis to companies that can maintain and improve on the cantankerous systems.   Acquiring MAFFS will require a timely executive – level decision.

Find innovative ways to support states that will buy new aircraft purpose – built or modified for aerial firefighting on government-owned,  company operated,  or;  “GOCO” contracts.   Example:  There is not one single Air Tractor  – “SEAT” owned and operated by the State of Texas.  The single-engine AT-802 “Air Tractor” is made in Texas, exported around the world to countries that have AFF fleets I think of as, “aerial fire departments”.   This amazing plane is available as a land-based single-engine air tanker or, as a seaplane called the Fire Boss – which can operate as a “scooper” from lakes and relatively shallow streams in remote areas.

Fire Boss

Above:  Fire Boss

States:

Ask for and accept the advice of California, which operates it’s own aerial fire fighting fleet within “CAL FIRE“; which,  on an austere budget can respond to fires reported anywhere in the state within 20 minutes.  CAL FIRE is an amazing example of what IS right in America.   Rapid “Initial Attack” often keeps the fire small enough to defeat.

All wildfire agencies:

In the case of civil air tanker operators,  the contracts must be of sufficient term to attract private capital investment,  with depreciation of equipment realized over a ten – year span.   Cost – plus contracting will ensure continual improvement and professional incentives required to support the men and women on the front lines.

 Mr. President:

“Please make Aerial Fire Fighting capabilities a top priority”!

We are in a wildfire crisis of unprecedented proportions.  Too much is at risk to sit down and do nothing.  In the case of Wildfire Policy,  the status quo may kill you or your neighbor.   This is the time to be proactive.

Randall Stephens – Fireplanes.org

Would you like to make a difference?   Please print and mail this article to your Congressional and State representatives.     Bloggers and Publishers, please reprint or post our work with links to Fireplanes.org. 

Fore updates, please visit  www.fireplanes.org

AD&M Publications – POB 170189  Austin, TX  78717        Phone (512) 796-5339

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About Fireplanes
Fireplanes is dedicated to providing valuable information about the aircraft, technology, policy and resources about wildfire and the aerial firefighting industry. Fireplanes.org is "Information to save lives and property". Please share with your friends, family, colleagues and representatives at every level. - Randall Stephens, Publisher / Austin, Texas.

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