Tom Harbour’s interview about air tankers

The Missoulian has a good article about the present state and the future of the air tanker program. The author, Rob Chaney, interviewed U.S. Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management Director Tom Harbour, and here are a couple of quotes from the article:

More than half a billion dollars worth of new firefighting airplane contracts should come through later this month, as the U.S. Forest Service heads into one of the hottest summers on record.

Although the names of contract winners won’t be announced before June 25, the news can’t come soon enough for Missoula-based Neptune Aviation. The company hopes to boost its new BAe-146 jet fleet from one plane to three, just weeks after a fatal crash in Utah reduced its Korean War-era P2V tanker fleet from eight to seven.

The five-year contracts to four vendors would bring on seven modern retardant bombers to the national firefighting air force. Three companies would provide two new planes apiece at a cost between $125.7 million and $178 million over five years. The fourth vendor would add one plane for $66.8 million.


“There’s been a lot of talk going around how there used to be over 40 large air tankers and now we have less than 10,” Snyder said. “But we know the aircraft we have today compared to the aircraft of yesteryear are a night-and-day difference. It’s just a guess, but I think you won’t need to see the number of aircraft you used to see in yesteryear.“

Thanks go out to Dick

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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 “Tom Harbour’s interview about air tankers”

  1. A little off subject, but what about Aero Union’s P-3’s? There are 6 capable tankers sitting on the ground, obviously with issues, but are a lot closer to reality than more 146’s. I know nothing of the situation, what they failed to meet concerning safety/airworthiness standards. Read somewhere the assets did not sell at auction. From this, I would assume no one wants to take on the P-3’s for various reasons, $$$ being as much as anything I’d guess??? Just curious why a proven platform is sitting while we’re trying to get new aircraft contracts and are watching the P2V fleet dwindle.

  2. Half a billion dollars for new fire fighting contracts. What does the taxpapyer get for this significant amount of money. Ten untested turbine(jet?) fire tankers in the next five plus years? How about ten proven 12,000 gallon capacity tankers by next year and a dispatch plan that doesn’t wait for hours to make a decision. 3000 gallons is just that, no different than C-130’s and DC-7 of the Federal past. The only way to stop (best effort) these destructive fires is to prevent them from escaping into the second day burning period. I.C’s ten air tanker in five years, take a number we’ll get back to you later for now, UTF, thats the future!

  3. It is early June. We’ve only reached national PL 2. And where are we? Five tankers are assigned to the High Park Fire, two more to the Comet Fire. That leave us where? What happens when fire season actually kicks in?

    How a high ranking, experience fire manager could actually believe adding just 7 new airtankers to the fleet will be adequate is beyond comprehension.

  4. Wow! Makes sense to me. Bigger fires, earlier, less resources, and capacities. Award the contracts later rather than early in the fire season and get more bang for the buck. Typical govt BS.

    ” More than half a billion dollars worth of new firefighting airplane contracts should come through later this month, as the U.S. Forest Service heads into one of the hottest summers on record.”


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