Company Drops its Protest of Forest Service Airtanker Awards

A tanker makes a slurry drop onto a 1,400-acre wildfire northeast of Castaic, Calif.,  in May.

A tanker makes a slurry drop onto a 1,400-acre wildfire northeast of Castaic, Calif., in May. Nick Ut/AP

Aircraft may not be ready before fire season winds down.

Neptune Aviation Services Inc. dropped its bid protest of the award of four next generation firefighting airtanker contracts last Friday, but the aircraft may not be ready for use until the tail-end of the 2013 fire season.

Thomas Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said “this will help modernize our fleet in the quickest manner possible as we face the prospect of a challenging wildfire season.”

Jennifer Jones, a Forest Service spokeswoman at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said it could take companies awarded the airtanker contracts between 60 to 90 days to get ready to fly wildfire suppression missions. This includes outfitting aircraft with tanks that carry water or chemical retardant, approval of a field trial by an Interagency Tanker Board and FAA certification.

“Since the contracts were awarded in early June, we would expect all of the aircraft to be flying by August-September, although it could be sooner if all of the requirements are met before then,” Jones said.

Neptune’s May 6 protest put a halt to contracts for four airtankers provided by two companies. The protest did not cover another three tankers, and on May 31 the Forest Service awarded five-year contracts with a total value of $71.7 million to Minden Air Corp. of Minden, Nev.; Coulson Aircrane USA of Portland, Ore.; and 10 Tanker Air Carrier LLC of Adelanto, Calif.

Minden will provide the Forest Service with a British Aerospace 146 four-engine regional jet modified for firefighting; 10 Tanker will offer a modified DC-10 tri-jet; and Coulson, a modified military C-130 four-engine turboprop. These aircraft can dump 3,000 gallons, 12,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons respectively from internal tanks on a fire.

Jones said the DC-10 passed its tests and certification last year, and has already helped fight fires this year in California and New Mexico.

Aero Air LLC of Hillsboro, Ore., now has two contracts to supply MD-87 twin jets, and Aero Flite Inc. of Kingman, Ariz., has two contracts to supply a stretched version of the 146, with a total value of $87.7 million for all four aircraft.