Contract protest delays new airtankers

Coulson Aviation and 10 Tanker Air Carrier are protesting the government-awarded contract to Neptune Aviation and Minden Air, along with two other Western companies, and the protest could keep seven new tankers on the ground for most of the fire season.

Tanker 41 at Missoula
Tanker 41 on Friday, August 4 at Neptune’s ramp after her tail got painted. Photo courtesy Bill Moss.

The Missoulian reported that Neptune’s Tanker 41 arrived last week in Missoula, ready for fire assignments. Neptune expects to add a third jet-powered BAe before the end of the month, and Minden also plans to bring on another BAe this summer. The contract awards included airtankers larger than SEATs and smaller than the VLATs.

Coulson and 10 Tanker protested the newly awarded contract in late June, and the General Accountability Office (GAO) is reviewing the case. That review, if it stretches over the allowed 100 days, could keep the new airtankers on the ground until October. Both protesting companies bid on the Forest Service “next-generation” airtanker contracts, and neither was awarded a contract.

Gary Allen, the GAO attorney who is reviewing the protest, told the Missoulian he can’t discuss details.

Rick Hatton with 10 Tanker also said he couldn’t talk about the protest. The DC-10 tankers flew 60 days of fire missions last year, but the company’s struggled for years with landing an exclusive-use contract; fire agencies have thus far limited the very large airtankers to only a call-when-needed contract.

Coulson operates the Martin Mars and other scoopers, along with firefighting helicopters. Coulson has also proposed designing its own C-130 as an airtanker.

Aero Flite Inc. of Kingman, Arizona, operates CL-215 ships and was awarded one of the new contracts. They’ve been in business since 1963. Another contract was awarded to Aero Air LLC of Hillsboro, Oregon; they plan to bring into service a couple of MD-87 jet airtankers next year, while Aero Flite will bring on an Avro RJ85 – a longer version of the BAe-146. OPB News reported that the MD-87 ships can drop 4,000 gallons of retardant.

The new contracts with the four companies were planned to add seven airtankers to the fleet by next year. They were awarded after the President signed a bill to speed up the federal contracting process, which required a 30-day waiting period before the Forest Service could award the contracts. After a June 3 tanker crash claimed the lives of two pilots in Utah,  Oregon Senator Ron Wyden introduced legislation to waive that waiting period.

7 thoughts on “Contract protest delays new airtankers”

  1. imagine what it would be like if we competed contracts for all public safety services including police and EMT and put management of their operation under a federal department …

  2. Right now in the Black Hills of SD it has become very obvious that fast and lots of IA is keeping fires small in very tough conditions. Now I read that the very people that make this possible are fighting with each other and it may keep much needed air tankers from joining the fight– I guess business is business but that is not much comfort to us that live in or near the forrest

    1. It’s certainly not a charity, Jim. If these companies met the specs for the contract, they should not have been excluded. Simple as that. They have the right to challenge.

      1. Yep they have the right and they are in business to make a profit, still it sucks that other people are put at risk because SOMEONE didn’t do their job or someone is doing this in spite–the timing is lousy to say the least.

        1. I agree, Jim. This BS has been going on since 2002… At the expense of you, me, firefighter and taxpayer in the US. I do actually believe there is spite involved in all of this, but it’s not from those contesting it.

  3. I really don’t know, it just seems that someone or something has not done what should have been done and now we find ourselfs in this position–as in most things it is probably is lack of money and forsight ie CONGRESS

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