USDA’s Office of Inspector General Issues Report on Air Tankers

TBM Air Tanker
TBM Air Tanker
TBM Air Tanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert

From Scripps News:

The Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General criticizes the U.S. Forest Service’s report on air tankers. The OIG report is HERE.

Excerpts from the article:

U.S. Forest Service air tankers used in California and other Western states are potentially vulnerable to accidents, investigators warn in a new report.Despite making strides to improve air safety, the Forest Service could still use more money, better long-range planning and stricter aircraft inspections, among other improvements, federal investigators said.”The Forest Service has suffered numerous, potentially preventable aviation accidents over the years, and continues to be at risk for more,” the investigators with the Agriculture Department’s Office of Inspector General noted this week.

“Firefighting aircraft are often subject to stresses well above those experienced in the flying environment for which they were originally designed,” the Office of Inspector General investigators observed, adding that “it is imperative to ensure that they can withstand the stresses of the fire environment.”

Forest Service officials largely agree with the 49-page critique, the latest in a series of reports, audits and hearings that have targeted the firefighting air fleet.

“The Forest Service takes very seriously its responsibility for safety in aviation, and has been working steadily to improve the air safety program,” Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell said in the agency’s official response.

By January, Forest Service officials promise a comprehensive plan to assess the airworthiness of its tanker fleet. The agency owns and operates 26 aircraft outright and leases 771.

In its official response, the Forest Service is resisting recommendations that the Federal Aviation Administration take more responsibility for the firefighting air safety program. Currently, the FAA approves planes generally but does not specifically determine whether the aircraft are fit for firefighting.

The Forest Service “possesses neither the technical information nor the expertise to assess its firefighting aircrafts’ airworthiness,” investigators said.

Kimbell retorted that “the FAA clearly has no … jurisdiction” over the firefighting (aircraft).