Air tankers on contract for 2012 and beyond

Air Tanker 45 on the Whoopup fire July 18, 2011
Air Tanker 45 on the Whoopup fire July 18, 2011
Air Tanker 45 on the Whoopup fire July 18, 2011. Photo: Bill Gabbert

The U.S. Forest Service is still struggling to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for “next generation” air tankers. As we reported on December 1, 2011, the agency issued a RFP on November 30 for turbine-powered air tankers that can carry 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of retardant and cruise at 300 knots. At that time the required response date was January 10, 2012 and the award date was January 31. Since then there have been three amendments to the RFP, 80 questions from potential bidders have been formally submitted, and the RFP has been re-issued with a new response date of February 15. The revised award date is “to be determined”.

The RFP still indicates that the USFS “intends to award” contracts for seven next-gen air tankers, three in 2012 and four in 2013, with the option to add more. And they retain the option to contract for no next-gen air tankers at all.

All of this uncertainty is not very confidence-inspiring for current and potential vendors who are required to invest millions, or tens of millions, in a venture that may or may not come to fruition, turn a profit, or last more than five years, if that.

This RFP is in addition to the 11 large fully certified “legacy” air tankers that are currently on exclusive use multi-year contracts.  Here is the text from the RFP:

It is the intent of this solicitation to secure a Firm Fixed Price Multi-Year contract(s) not to exceed 10-years (5 year base with 5 one year options) for the daily availability rate. The U.S. Forest Service intends to award seven (7) line items for next generation turbine powered airtankers. Line items 1-3 will begin service in calendar year 2012 and will have a base period of five (5) years with five (5) one year options. Line items 4-7 will begin service in calendar year 2013 and will have a base period of five (5) years with four (4) one year options. For each line item awarded the Government will have the option to add an additional four (4) airtankers (two (2) in year two and two (2) in year 3) to the contract for a total potential of 5 airtankers starting in year three of the base contract period.

The web site Random Ramblings: Aerial Wildland Firefighting has an article about the large air tankers that are on U.S. Forest Service contract for 2012. Here is the new list that is posted at the NIFC web site:

Air tanker contract list 2012

It’s a rather pitiful looking list, when compared to those from previous years that had 19 to 44 air tankers.

Tanker 40, the BAe-146 that Neptune is leasing from Tronos, arrived at the Tronos facility on Prince Edward Island December 24 to begin a major scheduled maintenance, a C-check, which is required every 5,000 cycles or every 2.5 years. The C-check for a BAe-146 usually takes about 21 work days and the aircraft has not returned to Missoula yet. Last fall the Interagency Air Tanker Board gave “interim approval” to Tanker 40 which will be valid until December, 2012.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

27 thoughts on “Air tankers on contract for 2012 and beyond”

  1. The way this fire season is shaping up I don’t think 12 airtankers will cut it. I know here in SoCal for IA we have the use of the CAL FIRE aircraft but if we have a really big fire I don’t think we will have enough aircraft.

  2. Disguising attempt to providing fixed wing air tankers for 2012. It was always interesting why an air tanker needs a day off? Solution: maintenance at night and hire (spend that extra money) for a RELIEF PILOT (S). The cost savings in flight time (nearest Fed tanker) will be recovered many times over.

    1. Johnny the reason for a day off is so the maintenance crews can give the tanker a good look over and do any major service. Also the maintenance crews do look over the tankers at night. There were many nights where I was leaving the tanker base and the tanker maintenance crews were out with there airplanes working on them.

  3. Really looking forward to the comments from the experts on here (especially JC & Leo) as to what they thought of the 17 page doc containing 80 Q&As from potential bidders. I read it, but not being in the business, I did not understand a lot of it. The (answer) from the usfs to (question) 3 below says a lot for me (Yes I know it was not an actual question persay) but really??? did they have to “answer” with that? Avoidance again, IMHO.
    “3. Cancellation Liability: Page B-1. The methodology described in the RFP for establishing the percentages proposed by the Forest Service is not consistent nor in compliance with the Cancellation Liability Clause itself, FAR 52.217-2. The specified computation methodology will make contractors proposed liability percentages higher than those reflected in the Modernization RFP.
    (Answer): Not a question.

  4. Anyone else find it utterly amazing (disbelief!) that Ten Tanker (T-910 & 911) doesn’t have an exclusive use FED contract?? Their air tanker has proven itself time and time again, the latest time being in Texas.. I have worked with it in California as well as the Texas fire’s and it is an awesome tool. I wish I would have had it on the Initial Attack on the Bastrop fire in Texas this last year…

    Politics can be an ugly thing….

    1. Well said Tony, politics is all it is, 12,000 gallons beats 3,000-5,000 gallons anytime, Gravity will beat a pressure system everytime for heavy tree and canapy cover, had 10 been in Bastrop and able to fly, I have to agree it might not have been any where near as bad. Had it not been for 10 Tanker during the Tri-County fire, we would have been a Bastrop incident as well, it gave our FF’s that extra little hand up they needed.

  5. @Tony DupreyDuprey, I was evacuated from the Bastrop Fire several times. Would have welcomed a large dc 10 plane to put our fire out. As a retired FF i also know that a ground crew has one of the harshest jobs and air support can mean life and death. With several fires already reported in Texas, i hope USFS can open their eyes and sign that contract.

  6. Year after year 10 Tanker Air Carrier has MORE than proven their ability to contain huge wildfires where other smaller ATs could not. There is a place for all sizes of ATs but for whatever reasons(s) USFS continues to blatantly ignore 10 Tanker and their record of success. I agree with TD above …………….IMHO this is reckless behaviour by the USFS and I & many others hope that someone… anyone…. in the USFS hierarchy realizes this before it is too late for 10 Tanker Air Carrier to continue to stay in the business of Aerial Firefighting. How long does anyone think they can stay around without an exclusive contract? Not long in my opinion!

    1. Rebel – just a few questions: you state that “year after year 10 Tanker Air Carrier has MORE than proven their ability to contain huge wildfires where other smaller AT’s could not.” So, my questions” 1. which fires? 2. Locations and years? 3. How “huge” in acres or hectares? 4. if these huge fires that 10 Tanker did “contain”, then there must have been an Incident Management Team assigned – is the work of 10 Tanker Air Carrier as you state it also reflected in their Final Fire Narrative? Were they the single factor that “contained” these huge wildfires?
      Inquiring minds want to know!

  7. I will comment after I read the doc. Why the FS does not put 10 Tanker LLC is cost and politics. Probably scared of DC10 MX reqs and seeing the MX after one of the ’10’s clipped a few trees in ’07 time frame. IT IS going to b an interesting fire season and the tap dance that is GOING to ensue this year!!!

  8. Oh BTW guys, I’m no expert..just a former UH60, UH1, and a former ’10 mech. Just a layman out here WITH a forestry degree and a heavy aviation background. Been watching these issues for the last 10-12 yrs since the downfall of H&P. Then AUC. All I can say…..look out Minden and Neptune!!! Yes 10 Tanker LLC has been dished by the USFS enough, that, why would anyone want to invest in “caring for the land and managing people?”

  9. I’m not in bed with 10 Air Carrier. I have a pretty good understanding of what works and what doesn’t work on wildfires. Had dinner with a very good friend. He lives the widlfire “dream”. His credentials are impressive. College grad, worked for F.S. B.L.M. and a So Cal. fire district. Finally coming to work with C.D.F. (Cal Fire) over thirty years ago. Today you’ll see him as an I.C. on threatening (mad) wildfire. Question I asked him, “what about the ten”? UNDERUTILIZED! When the Gov of the State of Ca. cancelled the immediate need contract for 10 Air Carrier he signed the “big loss contract for California. CWN won’t work containing fires quickly or substaining a company”. How about the Fed air program, I asked, (remember he is the guy in the hot seat I.C.) “you mean the Ghost Service”.

  10. What great insight and comments! VLAT vs. Fed issue. Feds are land managers. They should not be forced into using an aircraft (VLAT’s) politically. If that was to happen, first, the VLAT would sit on the ramp until the tires rot. OR Second when the political and media burner is turned up “why aren’t you using it (VLAT)? We are using it and it really didn’t effect the fires outcome.” Bastrop AFTER a large portion of the area was destroyed See the dilemma?

  11. Leo – If the fs is scared because of 10’s clipped trees incident in 2006 why do you suppose they are they awarding Neptune the majority of the contracts given the incident of their P2 in June 2010? See attached link. I agree with you; the upcoming “tap dance” will be most interesting to observe!
    You have heard that old saying “careful about putting all of your eggs in one basket? Well at least Minden has a shot at the chance of obtaining a contract by the looks of it so at least there would be two baskets. I heard that Mindens distribution system on their bae146 is a gravity system something like 10 Tankers, versus the pressurized system that Neptune has? Anyone confirm that? Oh and for what it is worth – you ARE an expert IMO.
    JC – Don’t fret – None of us will tell your wife that there were rumors about you being in bed with 10 Air Carrier…..ha!ha! Seriously though; your friend sounds like a pretty decent guy and you hit the nail on the head in your reference to Bastrop and the media. Dilemma; yes! I don’t know who was feeding the local TX media the information at that time, but the reason that 10 Tanker did not fly on the Bastrop fire on Wednesday September 7 changed 4 to 5 times by the time it came to Friday September 9. The truth was eventually relayed to the media but only after the decision was made to send 10 Tanker to the Riley Rd TX fire and not to Bastrop on 9/9.
    Rileymon – I haven’t forgotten you. Am gathering the information you requested. As there is a lot of it (information) given the many many huge fires 10 Tanker has assisted on and contained over the many many years ( thus proving their ability), please bear with me. Thanks in advance!

  12. Once again ignoring their own deadline, the powers that be have failed to instill confidence in the vendors and crews. I know of several other pilots who have thrown in the towel in the last few months as I did several years ago. The is no job security, no retirement, no benefits, no lunch. Being treated like a rented mule by some overpaid bureaucrat can grate on a person’s committment. The existing cadre of experienced pilots is moving on to other endeavors. Best of luck to those staying in–you will need it. Congratulations to those who have gotten out, there is life after flying airtankers.

  13. DC-10, there are several thoughts that come to mind and the Aussy report. 1) follow the money 2) don’t believe anything you hear or read and half of what you see. “DC-10 could cause injury or property damage because of its 40 tonne capacity.” So could a water drop of 50 gallons at 100 m.p.h. at 50 feet. I really like the part “not suitable for urban/interface.” Doesn’t Los Angeles County have a few scattered homes in their mountains? I have several copies on hand of the Aussy report, in fact I need to go change one from the bottom of my bird cage. Thanks for reminding me.

  14. “Evaluating effectiveness of the DC-10 for suppressing Australian bushfires. Initially the intention of the trial was to deploy this aircraft to active wildfires in Victoria Australia with a few additional non-fire missions to understand and evaluate its operation in Australian fuel & weather conditions. However because of the mild fire season this Air Tanker could only be deployed to one wildfire at which it dropped one load. While the drop was on target the fire behavior did not seriously challenge the drop owing to the moderated weather and discontinuous fuels leaving the question of its effectiveness in wildfire conditions UNANSWERED”
    “The 5 subsequent planned missions were specifically aimed to address issues relating to fire capabilities of this Aircraft. Owing to the prevailing conditions of the ’09-’10 fire season, NONE OF THE MISSIONS WERE CONDUCTED UNDER CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH SEVERE WILDFIRES”
    While these missions were able to give some indication of the impact of fire on drops the fire behavior weather and smoke WERE NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF WILDFIRE CONDITIONS. As a result of the mild season and reliance on planned missions the DC-10 was not assessed in strong winds or on fires with significant smoke. ON THE EVIDENCE COLLECTED this aircraft is not suitable for achieving effective suppression under most Australian wildfire conditions.
    The above are direct quotes from that Aussie report posted by Rick and are taken from the first 3 pages. I had read enough by that point. Really? need I go on? Nope; I don’t think so. It speaks for itself. Still working on getting that info to you Rileymon 🙂

  15. Well, I read both the Aussie report (91 pages vs the USFS / NASA “evaluation report” dated 2 Mar 2009)

    Minus the industry SME’s listed in the NASA / USFS report who who as much or MORE experience than their natural resource counterparts……..

    Take a look at the documentation that the Austrailians put together vs the OTE Summary report.

    I can surmise it is not a fair comparison. What is really needed is the cost of acft operation and some MX costs to put this VLAT into real perspective. I CAN SEE why the CALFire contract was cancelled.

    The fire season of 2011 that had a jumbled mess of orders, contract cancellations, and loss of jobs no matter how or who ran AUC and other operations, was what I would call a small embarrasment to the USFS who is now touting a ZERO accident year.

    USFS congratulations on that!

    Anyone hear about a NEW Rand report and how much it is going to cost to determine the next mix of AT’s, VLAT’s, etc in the future

    Anybody read about the $40 Million for “new” fuels reduction projects for the upcoming year(s)?

    Somebody should have scraped off $11 miilion USD for a more realistic study(ies) of the airtanker fleet!!!!

  16. To Rileymon – re the questions you had from my previous post. Thanks for bearing with me as I gathered the info you asked me for. Having only become interested in the FF industry (specifically the Aerial side of it) 6 months ago, it took me longer than I would have liked to compile this info; not that it was difficult to find, but there was so much of it out there on the WWW. Answer to # 1, 2 & 3…..,10 Tanker has flown over 420 missions on over 70 fires since it began fire fighting with DC-10’s in 2006. It has performed in 7 states and in Canada to assist ground fire fighters in the containment of wildfires. It is brought in to specific fires when the smaller loads dropped do not make the dent that is needed to contain them enough so that “the boots on the ground” eventually can put them out. Here are just a few of the fires they have assisted on and in some cases official reports are also available. More info can be found on their website, That website also contains a few quotes from fire officials from some of these incidents. You can look up the states and footage via inciweb or local FS websites. It’s all there. Fire names & years = Esperanza 06, Lick 07, Zaca 07, Corral 07, Moonlight 07, Humbolt 08, Chalk 08, Post 10, Wallow 11, Eagle 11, Wildcat 11, Magnolia, Riley Rd & Crown Ranch (AKA the Tri County Fires TX) 9/11, Quotes from Fire Officials and back up footage can also be found on youtube …these were posted by both official sources, and the People whose property and/or lives 10 helped to save. You can also google articles from the state TV stations, and state newspapers. I will use these from Texas in September/October ’11 as one can find more coverage about those missions, being that those fires were the most recent that 10 were called in & assisted on:
    There is a substantial difference in dropping 1kgals, versus 3kgals versus 11.6k gals on the same spot in one drop, is there not? Here’s a quote as to the difference 10 made when no other smaller AT could ( with respect to this specific situation) “Sept 5 2011 Tri-County Fire, Tx Grimes, Waller, Montgomery, size 18,960 acres, Expected Containment Date Sept 23, actual containment date (after 10 dropped on 9/9/11) Sept 14, Assigned Type IcIIIMTH transitioned to type III on 14 Sept” It saved the FFs on the ground 1 week of hell to say the least..
    Another quote…. “this plane can cover a golf course in one pass – thanks for sending it our way next time we might not be so lucky”.
    A politician in TX (McCaul) also became interested in 10s situation when he seen what they can deliver and how valuable their contribution is to this business – look him and his comments up – its all easy to find on the web. There are also many blogs within the FF community where I have read comments similar to my original one that you question Also look at the facebook pages set up by the Montgomery County Fire Marshalls Office and Heroes of the Tri-County Wild Fires dating back to September 9 2011. On both of these pages you will find comments as to 10s proven ability and success at what they do. Remember that these comments are for the majority, THE actual People whose lives and/or properties were directly threatened by some of the Texas fires last year and they seen what 10 did, up close & personal. Take a look at the 10 Tanker Air Carrier face book page and see the thousands of comments that were posted after the 9/9/11 Tri-County fires from the People in those communities.

    Answer to .4. Well Rileymon, that is a great question but why in the world are you asking me when you are the one in the know; not me? How do you know if that info was or was not contained in the ICs FFN? As for the “single” factor. I have never said they (10) were the single factor. I have always agreed that Ground & Aerial teams together are the army that fight these fires. Many people have referred to these ATs as “tools” to which I agree. Simply put then; they are small, midsize and large tools. There is a place for all sizes and all are needed. But, take away that 1 last large tool, and your toolbox is not equipped properly for some specific jobs. We need 10 just as much as we need any other AT to be in service for when the (quote from Texas TV station) “BIG GUNs are needed to be called in” . IMO, we, as a Nation, cannot afford to be without this resource………………….. Hope this helps you understand where I am coming from a bit better. Over & out (for now).

    Bill, I apologize for the length of this post – I edited it down 9 times already! Looks like I used up my quota for posting on your site for the month of February already :-(!

  17. As long as we are on the “Ten” again I would like to share (again) the thoughts of a very experienced and highly regarded I.C. Remember
    UNDERUTILIZED? This I.C. looks at a threatening wildfire not as a whole but steps (divisions) to obtain containment. My question, how can we contain a division quicker with less risk to personnel. His answer, “take a division that is chewing up terrain, place personnel and equipment in a place of safety and opportunity. Utilize two VLAT’s ( I can hear the howling) closely spaced (within 5 or 10 minutes of each other) to put enough retardant, if fuels warrant, on that division to allow ground personnel to work safely, reinforced with helicopter bucket work. Continuing he said, “how many times do we beat ourselfs up, dropping retardant all day and still loss that division?” One division, one VLAT sortie each (two aircraft) Move to the next division.

  18. Ok, in the Bastrop Complex fire the local and mutual aid departments worked in divisions. The ground crew plowed the ground, the helo dumps were provided by military and civilian. The air dumps were performed using smaller dual propped tankers and one that appeared to have been a P3 style tanker. That idea didn’t didn’t seem to go so well as we lost alot of homes and forced us into evacuation! Larger planes and larger dumps from now on for us please!

  19. Coldwater, I think your comments are pretty much on Target. JT I have to absolutly agree with you. Someone really needs to pick this Aircraft up and I would love for it to be Texas but our Gov doesnt seem to care that much for his people. With all that said. JT had TFS had 10 TAC here for your area I believe sure would have not lost as much, you would think Insurance Companys would look at what was lost last year and what is expected to be lost this year and add to the pot so to speak to try and help provent it. As for Rebel, I agree with what you have said. 09-09-11Every FF on the Tri fire will agree 10 saved a lot of time and money, especially keeping the Fire from Magnolia High School and the City of Magnolia, this may not be the case in the future if they are not available our politicians need to get a clue from us. Here is a little bit some may not be aware of as 10 was enroute back to the Tri fire for a 7th drop as they where going to start working in, 10 TAC was diverted to Panorama Villiage Tx, at Approx 1630hrs to make 3 full load drops as there where several subdivisions in danger there, one subdivision was being approched on two sides by fire, 10 was able to stop that, no homes burnt and only one damage for over 300+ house, impressive yes especially since this craft was used as an Initial Attack. These folks earned there money that day between the Tri-County and Panorama Villiage fire, there pay was more than earned that day. My wish was that she had been here for Bastrop and Allowed to make an IA there. As someone said that the drops are to heavy, well so is a heilos, you might be suprise what a roof can stand, another way to look at is, would you rather have to do some clean up, maybe patch repair a roof, or have nothing at all left? to try and pick up from. Just a thought, I know what my choice is.JMHO .Why was 10 so effective as apposed to some of the other Aircraft, simply gravity, and the amount of retardent being able to be dropped as it was the only one that could actually penatrate the heavy tree canopys and actually make it to ground as apposed to just getting hung up in the tree tops.

    1. Just my two cents worth.

      Surely, there are objective after action reviews of these fires and how they are fought and what didn’t work well? Like many others I was at Riley Road up close and personal. The biggest problem? Not responding disproportionately. The action taken at Panorama Village is what should be done every time all the time… kick the living hell out of the thing when it is small.

      What nearly destroyed Texas last year was letting a whole bunch of small stuff get big. Sure, there are resource constraints and sure it was a record dry and heat but still there should be enough dozers in Texas to have buired the whole 22,000 acres in a day.

      Air Tractor says that Europe uses small tankers to hit small fires fast before they get out of hand. Is that true? We seem to wait until it gets out of hand to call in air support.

      Slurry is a retardant not an extinguisher but it sure did an excellent job of turning the fire so the ground crews could work from attack points of relative safety and it kept the thing from going wild. There is one great example of how much good the 10 did on 1488 West just north of the Cowboy Church. You can see where the 10 laid down three strips and boxed the fire in so crews could mop it up when it ran short of fuel. Saved several houses just west of the road where one drop was made in heavy brush.

      Yaupon doesn’t burn, it EXPLODES. So does Rattan. This is what made the ladder fire. No truck and hose could stop it. It was like the crown fires that my Dad told me about. It just got up in the trees and ran.

      We cut timber last year in East Texas that hit the mills “Green” with 12% moisture in it. Just sap, that’s all. No moisture to speak of at all. You can’t put that out, you can only retard it and the only way to do that is by air IF you want to stop the fire.

      USFS doesn’t seem to want to fight fires.

  20. Being in a position to see active (circling above for hours) fire tankers you must remember they don’t put out out fires!
    The planes drop retardant, there not meant to be an extinguisher. The drops are surgical usually not longer than 200 yards.
    Look at fire scare in the forest or hill side and let me know when you find a 1 mile straight burn line where it was clear retardant held the line. These plane head off fingers of the fire using retardant starving the fire of fuel. If your house is burning your not going to get dropped on, if your neighbors house is not burning they will get the drop. Imagine driving a semi down the narrow streets of SF impossible! A small delivery Truck UPS type no problem that’s where we fly.

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