President Obama has asked the U.S. Forest Service to start modernizing its fleet of air tankers, and some of those planes will be based in the coming months at Spokane International Airport.
Aero-Flite is moving a portion of its firefighting operation to the Spokane Coeur d'Alene area from Arizona, because the metropolitan area is surrounded by national forests that Aero-Flite has been contracted to protect from wildfires.
Using the hangar that used to be part of the Army National Guard installation on the southern side of the airport, Aero-Flite will be setting up an air tanker base to help bring their aircraft closer to the fight.
"They are in a perfect position geographically to project out into the areas of the country that have the greatest fire hazards this time of year," SIA director Larry Krauter said.
Aero-Flite has contracts with both state and federal governments to fly aerial support to wildfires in the region. Airport officials say they're glad to have the new firefighting resources in our area but also the jobs the company is bringing with it.
"It's really the best of all world's. These folks coming to Spokane International because of the firefighting capacity that they have but also because of the family wage level support jobs they are going to be bring to the community," Krauter said.
Aero-Flite has also just landed a contract to provide the Forest Service with the next generation of water dropping tankers. Models of the British built Avro RJ-85, currently used as a regional airliner, will undergo conversion into an air tanker platform which will be able to carry up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.
The company is working to have their RJ-85s up and running by next summer.
There's no word yet on when Aero-Flite will begin basing aircraft at SIA, but once they do arrive they will be around for a while. The company's lease with the airport doesn't expire until 2029.