U.S. Senator says the USFS has its head in the sand about air tankers

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has often been critical of how the U.S. Forest Service manages the fleet of large air tankers which has withered by 75 percent from 44 in 2002 to the 11 we have today. We most recently wrote about the shortage of air tankers HERE.

Below is an excerpt from an article in Oregon’s Mail Tribune:

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden intends to hold the U.S. Forest Service’s feet to the fire to increase its fleet of large air tankers under contract.

“The forest fires are getting bigger and the air tanker fleet is getting smaller,” said Wyden, D-Ore., during a news conference Tuesday morning at the Medford air tanker base. “That has left us with some enormous challenges. We’ve already seen some big fires in Arizona and Colorado.

“Despite the enormity of all this, the agency that is most responsible for fighting them, the Forest Service, has allowed the air tanker fleet to shrink,” he said.

The agency had 44 large air tankers under contract in 2006 but now has only 11, said Wyden, chairman of the Senate Forestry Committee.

“And 10 of those average 50 years of age,” Wyden added. “So we have some of these planes that are getting to the point where they belong in museums rather than the sky.”

The Democrat and other senators in the West, including Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are pushing the agency to modernize the fleet as quickly as possible.

“We now have to deal with an agency back in Washington, D.C., that, in my view, continues to deny the enormity of this problem,” he said.

“It has had its head in the sand on this.”

Thanks go out to Don

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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.

5 thoughts on “U.S. Senator says the USFS has its head in the sand about air tankers”

  1. ^^

    With that kind of leadership and the current fire fighting season…..the folks at the USFS have proven they do not deserve any type of help to get the C130J’s they have so longingly they have dreamed of.

    The current seaon with what has happened in the last 2 days….and not a back up….which there are….the P3’s from Aero Union……..would at least get the next two fire sesons….. until “SOME PLAN” was developed….covered.

    The idea that these folks could run current day aircraft…amazes alot us out here in the fields (The Who)

    C130J’s in the USFS inventory??? You bet in the hands of a contractor selected by the folks such as FAA, NTSB, NASA, USAF, etc.

    This accident with the P2 has nothing to do with contracts and everything to do with aircraft operation and aviation professionals who can PLAN.

    The Captain and FO gave the ultimate sacrifice for this country and its folks. The timber resource…welllll that IS another story!!

  2. When Senators and Congressmen tell USFS to act (Contract the VLATS for one) and they do nothing more than offer up CWN then it is time for new leadership. Never mind the will of the people that pay their salaries. They could have claimed poor at that point but instead told the Senate we got this but we still would like over 2 billion for C 130s. They are corrupt or imcompetant. What is taking so long for the Next Gen tanker contract to be awarded? That should and could of been awarded in Feb..

  3. Maybe Congress should stop cutting the budget of the USFS, especially with regard to fire suppression and fuel management work.

    1. Jim – that’s a pretty radical idea: it would mean that Congress has to take some ownership in the issue and it’s resolution rather than just offering inflammatory comments (yes, pun intended!!) about the situation. But please don’t hold your breathe for that to happen, especially in an election year: Federal bureaucrats are easy targets for politicians on both sides, especially since they can’t really respond in Public. Maybe we can recruit another 535 firefighters from DC: 100 from the Senate and 435 from the House? Naw, I’d rather have convicted felons on the line rather the un-convicted ones.

  4. I am glad to see that so many senators and other elected officials are finally speaking about this major issue we have before us. Its time to toss the requirement to prove all the flight hours on the aircraft. If they would do that they could bring 2 heavy tankers on to contract very quickly since they still fly fires in Oregon. That is just my 2 cents on the issue.


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