Colorado: proposed legislation would provide funds for helicopters and an air tanker

A Colorado state senator will be introducing legislation that would provide $9 million for four helicopters and an air tanker to suppress wildfires. A bill approved last year created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) but failed to appropriate any funds to run the agency or acquire any aviation assets.

Senator Steve King will file a bill today that would take funds from five state departments that are “most affected by wildland fires”. The departments are Natural Resources ($1.3M), Local Affairs ($0.6M), Agriculture ($0.4M), Public Health and Environment ($2M), and Public Safety ($4.7M). The funds would come from their appropriations for this fiscal year which ends on June 30, 2014.

In one sense, finding $9 million for firefighting aircraft without raising taxes is good news for Coloradans, but it seems likely that the five affected agencies will be less than enthusiastic.

The legislation specifies that a contract be issued for one Type 1 air tanker or a very large air tanker. That could include in the Type 1 category, for example, a C-130, MD-87, or a BAe-146. A DC-10 or 747 would qualify as Very Large.

In addition, contracts would be issued for four helicopters, with three of them being Type 1 that could carry at least 700 gallons of water or retardant, while the other would be used for “command-and-control functions through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating, controlling, and documenting forces and operations in the accomplishment of aerial firefighting missions”.

One or more of the aircraft could be made available to the federal government or other states if they were not needed in Colorado.

The legislation also requires the CFAC to acquire four large “aircraft”, presumably fixed wing, which would be converted to air tankers by retrofitting them with retardant tank systems by June 1, 2015. The sources of the aircraft could be “the federal excess personal property program, the open market, or any other donation or acquisition means”.

The language about contracting for the retrofitting has some interesting recommendations to consider. Such as, will the work be done in Colorado, and, will the bidder “further upgrade or improve the air tankers for nighttime aerial firefighting missions, or preserve or enhance the multipurpose functionality of the aircraft, or develop other methods or systems to make the CFAC’s operations more effective”.

In case you are wondering how far $9 million will go, as a point of reference the federal government will be paying an estimated $7.3 to $8.7 million per air tanker each year on the next generation 160-day Type 1 air tanker contracts. That works out to $45,000 to $54,000 per day. Colorado may decide to contract for less than 160 days each year, but still that does not leave a lot left over for the four contracted helicopters each year and retrofitting the four additional aircraft they expect to acquire. The retrofitting alone could be around $3.5 million each.

The proposal also gives the CFAC the ability to accept a variety of funds, including gifts, sponsorships, advertising fees, licensing fees, and donations from private or public sources. Maybe the CFAC or Senator King took our contest about advertising on their air tankers seriously, such as the idea below from Tim Holmes. By the way, you can still vote for the best ad design.

Tim Holmes P2V
Colorado Rockies ad on a P2V, by Tim Holmes

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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.