Australia beefs up their air tanker fleet

New South Wales has been experiencing hot, dry weather for several days, resulting in numerous bushfires that have burned more than 100 homes

Above: DC-10 Tanker 911 on the Robbers Fire in California July 15, 2012. Photo by David Wilson.

This article first appeared at

Due to an unusually high level of bushfire activity Australia has contracted for two additional air tankers to assist firefighters on the ground. Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the aircraft were added using the NAFC’s system of Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contracts.

On November 12, U.S. time, Tanker 911, a DC-10, was loading spare parts onto the aircraft and is expected to be fire-ready in Richmond, New South Wales on November 16. It is supplied by Agair/10 Tanker. The DC-10 is considered a Very Large Air Tanker and can carry up to 9,400 gallons (35,582 liters).

The other EWCN air tanker added to the fleet is a Coulson C-130Q with an enter on duty date of November 29, also at Richmond. It usually carries around 3,500 gallons (13,248 liters).

Australia's large and very large air tanker fleet
Australia’s fleet of large and very large air tankers, updated November 13, 2019. The dates are DD/MM. Information provided by NAFC.

There are also changes on the rotor wing side. One of the most significant additions is a ECWN contract for a Blackhawk with long line bucket based at Toowoomba in Queensland.  The helicopter is suppled through Kestrel Aviation (who are partnered with BHI2/Brainerd).

Recent additions bring the total number of firebombing aircraft in Australia to 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.

H. R. 3781 if passed will increase fire suppression contractor costs

Large commercial vehicles supporting wildfire suppression could see a significant increase in insurance premiums

(Above: Firefighters line up at the catering contractor’s truck for breakfast at the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado July 1, 2012. USFS photo by Kari Greer.)

By Bob Stanton

If H.R. 3781 passes, it will increase the required minimum insurance coverage required for commercial motor vehicles (CMV) over 26,001 lbs GVWR from the current $750,000 to nearly $5 million. The bill titled Improving National Safety by Updating the Required Amount Insurance Needed per Event ( INSURANCE) Act of 2019, would apply to CMVs used in interstate commerce and index the new $5 million minimum requirement to inflation.

The bill was introduced and is sponsored by representatives with close ties to the Trucking Litigation Group within the American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers lobbying group. The bill is viewed as only benefiting trial lawyers. From a 2013 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study of financial responsibility requirements for commercial motor vehicles, less than 1% of CMV accidents settle for more than the current $750,000 requirement.

Currently liability coverage for larger commercial vehicles is at times hard to place and costs have been rising, in part due to “nuclear” multimillion dollar verdicts against trucking companies in tragic accidents. Exact estimates of how much premiums for CMV insurance would rise if the $5 million minimum coverage limit is imposed vary; 300-400 % premium increases is not an unrealistic estimate.

Many contract suppression resources operate CMVs that would be subject to this new costly insurance requirement. Many engines, water tenders, dozer low boys, mobile shower, catering, aviation fueling, mobile retardant bases, and air resource support vehicles are CMVs subject to FMCSA requirements.

Both direct suppression resources and support-contracted resources are an integral part of cost effective wildland and prescribed fire management programs by many agencies.

If you have concerns, contact the office of your member of Congress.

Bob Stanton is a retired prescribed fire and engine contractor from Illinois who now works in the trucking industry.

Contract awarded to install retardant tanks in Forest Service HC-130H air tankers

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

HC-130H paint design
This is the US Forest Service approved paint design that will be used on the seven HC-130H air tankers acquired from the Coast Guard.

After a solicitation process that dragged on for almost two years, the U.S. Air Force has awarded the contract to build and install retardant delivery systems for up to seven of the seven HC-130H aircraft that are being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. 

The Coulson Group announced today that they received the contract. In one sense this is not unexpected because the company has installed and successfully operated two similar systems in C-130s — Tanker 131 and Tanker 132. In another sense, it is a surprise after the Government Accountability Office denied the company’s protest of the terms of the request for proposals in August of 2015.

C-130 retardant tank unload
Coulson’s retardant tank being removed or installed in one of their air tankers, T-131, in 2013. Coulson photo.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to work with the United States Air Force to provide them with state of the art retardant aerial delivery systems (RADS) for their fleet of C-130s,” says Wayne Coulson, CEO and President of Coulson Aviation.

The 3,800-gallon retardant system will be gravity-based with retardant tanks that can be quickly removed, making it possible for the air tankers to also haul cargo or passengers.

One of the seven HC-130H aircraft began working out of McClellan Air Field near Sacramento last summer. Since it did not have a permanent retardant tank it borrowed one of the Forest Service’s eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that can be inserted into the cargo hold of a military C-130 to provide a surge capacity of air tankers during a time of heavy wildfire activity. The MAFFS pump the 3,000 gallons of retardant out of a pipe through the door using compressed air, rather than letting it drop out of the belly with the assistance of gravity as is done with conventional air tankers.

The Air Force is responsible for the retrofitting and performing the heavy maintenance that must be completed before the seven HC-130Hs are finally turned over to the USFS over the next three years. This contract is for the installation of one trial “kit”, one verification kit, and three production kits. There is an option for the installation of two additional production kits.

Coulson Aviation has 25 years of experience in aerial fire suppression and they operate both Type 1 helicopters and large fixed wing air tankers. Coulson is one of the few companies to hold multi-country aerial firefighting contracts, including Canada, the United States, and Australia.