Two days before Neptune Aviation’s second P2V air tanker in two years had a hydraulic system failure and made an emergency landing, the company issued a press release saying they intend to phase out the 50 to 60 year old warbirds by 2021 and switch over to 11 jet-powered BAe-146 air tankers converted by Tronos, a Canadian company. Currently Neptune is leasing a BAe-146 from Tronos, and due to some inconsistenices during qualification testing for the Interagency Air Tanker Board last summer, was only granted temporary “interim” approval for the aircraft to serve as an air tanker for federal agencies.
Here is the text from Neptune’s press release:
“Missoula, MT, April 21, 2012
Neptune Aviation Services has tapped seven pilots for training on the new-generation air tanker currently fly the company’s nine remaining 1950s vintage P2V Neptune air tankers, originally built for the US Navy as maritime patrol aircraft. Neptune Aviation Services expects to phase out the last ones by 2021, with 11 BAe 146s, slated for delivery to the operator prior to that time.
“Selection for the initial cadre was based upon the capability of the pilots to upgrade to the BAe 146’s advanced cockpit,” said Dan Snyder, Neptune Aviation Services President. “However, as the P2Vs are retired, all of our other pilots will be given the opportunity to transition to the BAe 146.” Currently, there are 31 pilots employed by the company specifically for its air tanker operation.
Pilot training, Snyder explained, includes 10 days of ground school in Missoula, staffed by former BAe 146 airline pilots and training instructors who have been retained on contract. From there, the trainees will undergo approximately 25 hours of simulator-based flight instruction at the Oxford Training Academy in Manchester, UK. An additional six hours of instruction, including the check ride, is to be done in the airplane.
The modified BAe 146s have been undergoing passenger to tanker conversions by Prince Edward Island (Canada)-based Tronos Jet, which is equipping each of the four-engine jets with a 3,000 gallon capacity internal tank. The fire retardant within the tank will be dropped through belly-positioned doors.
One modified aircraft has been operated by Neptune Aviation Services since October 2011, under US Forest Service (USFS) interim approval, and flown by two of the company’s supervisory pilots. The company expects to take delivery of two more converted tankers by the start of the 2012 fire season.
“Given our experience with the tanker to date, we have learned its strengths and weaknesses and made appropriate changes, including some critical improvements to the tanking system,” Snyder reported. He pointed out that the BAe 146 was chosen after more than a decade of research to identify the best P2V replacement.
“The BAe 146 was selected because it is turbine driven, it can carry the fire retardant quantity the USFS requires, and it has favorable performance characteristics. For example, it can fly slowly enough to interface with other aircraft, including lead planes and helicopters, in the fire traffic area, and it can operate out of all existing US Forest Service bases. It also has favorable acquisition costs and economics, in terms of operations and maintenance.”
According to Snyder, all of the aircraft being acquired, through purchase or lease, have been retired from airline service, and are relatively low cycle. “The airframes are generally at their mid-life point,” he said. “We are anticipating at least 20 years of service.” “