First Wildland Fire Commission report focuses on aviation

(UPDATE February 14, 2023: To clarify — the rationale for releasing a report on Aerial Equipment first was a component of the guiding legislation that specified, in the “Duties of Commission,” that a “Report on Aerial Wildland Firefighting Equipment Strategy and Inventory Assessment” would be submitted per a prioritized schedule – an initial surplus inventory within 45 days of the commission’s first meeting, and a report to Congress 90 days after the inventory. See the statute at https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/title-two-wildfire-mitigation.pdf. Thanks to a commission member for the helpful reminder to always confirm with the guiding legislation.)

To choose aviation for the first report from the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission might be seen as harvesting the lowest hanging fruit, or cornering the largest elephant in the room. In actuality, the guiding legislation created specific timelines that prioritized fire aviation as a key and initial priority. Whatever the colloquial phrase, the Commission’s swift creation of the Aerial Equipment Strategy Report offers a challenging and potentially quite fruitful focus.

The report, released on February 13, 2023, frames the status of fire and aviation today in eight findings, which in turn aims us to 19 recommendations. Both the framing and the aiming may raise familiar notes — but in this case there is a universal urgency that reflects the accelerating fire challenge as well as the timeframe for the Commission, which has a year from their first meeting on September 14-15, 2022 to submit recommendations to Congress.

Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission header 2023-Feb

The Commission’s mandate and 50-person membership resulted from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) (https://www.whitehouse.gov/build/), which features a focused timeline and inclusion of a wide range of wildland fire experts and stakeholders – more than half representing non-federal entities (and more than 2/3rds, if you include alternates). The BIL included $8.7 billion for wildfire management under the umbrella of resilience, with the greatest proportion of funding tagged to “the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service ($3.37 billion) and the Department of the Interior ($1.46 billion) for wildfire risk reduction.”

As the report notes, the time for this strategy is overdue when considering the commission’s legislative charge to develop “a strategy for meeting aerial equipment needs through the year 2030” (a mere seven years from now) – which may be why the recommendations aim a trajectory into future decades for aviation and fire management in general.

The Commission’s first report operates within a framework that places aviation as a component of an overall strategy for a changing fire environment:

“In developing these recommendations, the Commission also sought to address several key themes: the need to develop an overarching, forward-looking aviation strategy that drives procurement, rather than letting aviation approaches become constrained by current practices; the need to invest in both technology and people to build an aviation fleet that meets long-term demand; and the need to take an inclusive approach to the range of functions aerial resources can serve and the range of entities that must be included in development of a truly national – rather than federal – aviation strategy.”

The topics, as organized by the commission, are grouped by aviation strategy, military-sharing opportunities and challenges, contracting, staffing, aviation use for beneficial fire (beyond suppression), and uncrewed aerial systems.

This first report of recommendations merits a full read – but in support of its urgency, consider this summary of Findings and Recommendations as a streamlined tally sheet for tracking the tasks ahead.

FINDING RECOMMENDATION
Aviation Strategy
1) Fire Year
2) Aviation not sole solution
3) National strategy to define needs
R 1: Regional Standards of Cover.
R 2: Include contractor perspectives.
R 3: Consider national strategy for all ownership models of aviation.
R 4: Compare costs of Dept .of Defense (DoD), government and private aviation assets.
Contracting and Appropriations
4) Budgets favor short-term over long-term R 5: Improve effectiveness, efficiency of contracting.
R 6: Contracts meet national strategy.
R 7: Funding for increased fire seasons.
Staffing
5) Lack of qualified personnel a bottleneck R 8: Congressional funding for aviation training, staffing at all levels.
R 9: Explore private contractors as NWCG staff.
R 10: Explore technology to increase effectiveness, reduce staff.
Military Interoperability
R 11: Uniform training for DoD and land management for interoperability.
R 12: National aviation strategy to consider needs outside continental U.S.
R  13: Continue DoD for surge after other aviation assets utilized.
Military Surplus
6) Surplus adoption has risks, costs

7) Benefit to surplus parts

R 14: DoD surplus for all wildland fire community.
R 15: Wildland fire community to develop annual list of surplus needs.
R 16: Evaluate purpose-built or modified aircraft for wildland fire.
Aerial Resources and Beneficial Fire
8) Beneficial fire use limited by aviation capacity R 17: Aviation resources for risk mitigation, prescribed fire.
Uncrewed Aerial Systems
R 18: Improve UAS technology in wildland fire.
R 19: Develop national UAS strategy for wildland fire.

Topics still open for comments include …

Comments due by February 22:
Science, Data, and Technology
Public Health and Infrastructure

Comments accepted March 1-22:
Appropriations
Workforce

*

For background on the Commission’s focus topics, see https://www.usda.gov/topics/disaster-resource-center/wildland-fire/commission/engagement

For a direct link to comment: https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=4F2CSwVwPUuaFHhBHyhmA6FEjg4OKPpHhH5JnoyGJB9UMEEwUllETzRNWVAyOUUyWFM0UE5QS09YTCQlQCN0PWcu

And read the complete Aviation Equipment Strategy Report at the Commission’s website and below:

[pdf-embedder url=”https://wildfiretoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Wildfire-Commission-Aviation-Report-01.2023-508.pdf”]

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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.

4 thoughts on “First Wildland Fire Commission report focuses on aviation”

  1. All equipment efficiency analysis’ will be useless unless you are rating the operator also. In fact, the operator is probably more important than the equipment. A reward system for operators would increase effectiveness the greatest.

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  2. The Commission understands that agency staff are hopeful of this new
    approach to contracting but also heard concerns from the contracting community.
    It is likely too soon to know how well this approach will meet the collective need
    and will require future assessment.

    To borrow and old Army Aviation Risk Management sticker we had in our toolboxes: Hope is NOT a Method

    We can only ‘hope” thought the years of theses studies and the really never result of AFUE that Bill Gabbert “had” to do an FOIA request on something that should be available to ALL practitioners both vendor aviation and LMA personnel indicates to me that MORE than just government agency personnel need to be in the field and that the current hiring of fire personnel only under 6C needs to include us folks who have held the degree in aviation, business, and aircraft maintenance.

    There hasn’t been a plethora of info since MR Gabbert passed away on this subject and simply thinking that the aerospace industry is going to magically produce 44-48 airtankers (sound dated, already??) out of the goodness of their hearts without some commitment of R$D money such as the airtanker industry has done in their own shops with out 10-15 yr guarantees and that depending solely on DoD equipment ( where LMA agency chirrrrping about aircraft costs were high due to availability of airframes and parts while some of the aerospace industry was making those single engine UH1 Hueys live an afterlife after agency personnel thought there were “unsafe” and now KMax is ending production of KMax heavy lift helicopters) might force these studies to do a DEEEEP dive in costs of building those purpose built LM 1000 (C130) that former USDA Mark Rey thought he had sewed up after he apparently went Lockheed. Apparently, Lockheed stepped right up and is producing them, right?

    Maybe the LMAs need to hire us aviation types retired or not, to get back in the aviation field so they can at least spend 50% of their time managing the land.

    Maybe all these studies will come to fruition. Hope is NOT a method

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    1. While alphabetical order is a helpful tool, in this case we discovered that the guiding legislation prioritized aviation. And based on the list of topics so far, I think the priorities are so many that we may need stronger tools for prioritizing than even the alphabet offers. We clarified the aviation priorities in an update to the article.

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