In 2011 the U.S. Forest Service had 34 helicopters on national contracts and even though their request for proposals for this year was for 34, they only awarded contracts for 30. The agency cut the helicopters formerly based at Alturas, CA; Oakridge, OR; Orland, CA; and Porterville, CA.
Today the USFS announced they changed their minds and decided to award an additional four exclusive use national contracts for helicopters. They will be:
- Two S-61s owned by Siller Helicopters of Yuba City, Calif.;
- One S-64 Skycrane owned by Erickson Air Crane of Central Point, Ore.;
- One S-70 (Blackhawk) owned by Firehawk Helicopters of Leesburg, Fla.
Here is the updated list of USFS helicopters on exclusive use national contracts for 2012:
All of these helicopters are Type 1, which requires a minimum capacity of 700 gallons, except for the eight K-Max ships which can carry only 680 gallons according to the capabilities listed on two of the K-Max contractors’ web sites. The K-Max has about 25 percent of the capacity of an Aircrane and the cost is also about 25 percent. The USFS pays $1,924 per flight hour for a K-Max K-1200 compared to $7,718 for a CH-54/SK-64.
The National Interagency Aviation Council study that was approved by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group in July, 2008 recommended that there be on exclusive use contract in 2012, 34 Type 1 helicopters, 47 Type 2 helicopters, and 100 Type 3 helicopters. The same study recommended that by 2012 there should be 23 large air tankers plus 3 water scooper air tankers on contract, for a total of 26, and by 2018 a total of 35 air tankers (32 plus 3). Currently we have 9 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts with 3 more to be added by the end of this year, and 4 additional in 2013.