Neptune to acquire 11 jet-powered air tankers

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.” “

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

11 thoughts on “Neptune to acquire 11 jet-powered air tankers”

  1. Nice find, Bill!

    Congrats Mr Snyder on the upcoming leases.

    I was on the phone tonite with one of my friends who is a pilot w/ Delta Airlines and he knew a few of the pilots that flew the “Bring Another Engine” 146’s.

    He heard the stories and I have heard them, too as well as many others in the aviation biz. You know, last year I was skeptical of the ship but, you know, as I am transitioning to glass cockpits as well as getting my taildragger endoresement……I now can see the learning curves and sim tim that is going to be required to get the pilots up to speed.

    This investment indicate one thing to me…..Mr Snyder and Neptune are pushing forward….

    NOW with this investment he and Neptune are making…..WHAT is the USFS doing to support the so called “interim status?”

    This so called “interim status” ought to be wrapped up in about 2 months, eh , USFS? After all. look at the investment private industry is accomplishing to solve your mission goals of fire suppression.

  2. holys__t.

    “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.”


    all i can say is just WOW. and the FIREPIRATES among us think what about this?

  3. Glad to see Neptune being proactive in the future of the air tanker program, my only concern will be can they get the real world daily rate and hourly rate out of the Forest Circus to operate them and make money doing so. Also note I have heard that Aeroflite has purchased Avro RJ’s and they are working with Conair in Canada on tanking them.

  4. Re: the RJ-85 airtanker, Conair & Aeroflite are pursuing this option in a joint venture arrangement since Conair purchased a portion of Aeroflite last year The much newer RJ-85, the first of which is currently being converted to an airtanker in Canada, will offer superior performance to the BAe146 and will be equipped with a gravity (not pressurized) variable-flow 3000USG tank.

  5. Whadaya think kelly

    The USFS gonna pay each pilot 1hr for proficiency on this bird??

    Like allllll JEEEET aircraft….there is going to be learning curve that the USFS will not even be accustomed to this stage of the jet entry game.

    For the FirePirates here…… I am sure they see the validity in the training if not the aircraft….

    Problem is… is THIS training going to be wriiten up in the contract so Mr Snyder can recoup those training costs AND come to think of it….alllllll my jeeeeet drivin buddies who fly for the airlines have to get checkrides EVERY 6 months for currency.

    How DOES the USFS even begin to identify the training needs of jeeeeeet aircraft if they are not even willing to put up Exclusive Use contracts on Tanker10LLC ( I know…CALFIRE) or Evergreen 747???

    Mr Snyder is ahead on this and it IS time for the land mgmt agencies to CATCH UP and GET up to speed…(pun intended)

    YEP it is a holy —t …time for the USFS and ATB boyz to put their big girl panties on!!

  6. Minden Air, a company doing their own conversion of a BAe-146, sent some of their pilots to Australia for simulator training. I believe there is also a BAe-146 simulator in South America, in addition to the one in the UK — but obviously none in the USA, since there are no BAe-146s currently operating in the USA other than the two at Neptune and Minden.

    1. Sounds like a business opportunity. What does a simulator cost? We can go halves on it……..

  7. As far as simulators go, I heard rumor that Air Wiscosin had one, also what about Mesaba airlines, they use to operate 146/Avros for Northwest airlines. I would think there would be at least one north america, not sure though. Also just note, Air Wiscosin was the only airline that operated the 146 and made a profit with it, at least that is what I have been told by some of my old airline buddies from those days.

    1. … “As far as simulators go, I heard rumor … not sure though … . at least that is what I have been told … some of my old airline buddies … ”


      rumors, not sure, heard it from a friend, yah yah yah. … Please let’s not turn this forum commentary into MellieSaid, eh? Gabbert’s done a fine job here of sleuthing out facts and quotes and publishing REAL fire news. Let’s not go the way of the rumor&libel place, eh? That’s already been done.

  8. There are a number of BAe 146 simulators around the world. CAE just acquired Oxford Air Training which previously bought BAE’s simulator inventory.

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