Cantwell questions Forest Service decision to end fire fighting aircraft contract

Cantwell questions Forest Service decision to end fire fighting aircraft contract

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell questioned the Forest Service’s decision to eliminate its contracts for all its water scoopers and change the way its air tankers are contracted ahead of the 2018 fire season Tuesday.

Under the new policy, the Forest Service will change its contracts from exclusive-use to a contract referred to as “call-when-needed.” Under the new contract, an air tanker has 48 hours to respond after it’s ordered, rather than the 15 minute response time under exclusive use contracts. The new policy would also force air tankers and water scoopers to operate after the first 24 hours of a fire starting.

“The point of air tankers is to be able to catch wildfires before they can grow into expensive incidents. So, I am concerned about a policy that would leave these air tankers unable to fly when they are ordered–for up to 48 hours,” said Cantwell.

The Forest Service also recently canceled existing contracts for its water scoopers, as well as for some of its air tankers, even though the Forest Service will have less available firefighting aircraft this year. In 2017, the Forest Service had 20 air tankers available, and will only have 13 air tankers available this year.

In 2017, 371 orders for an air tanker had to go unfulfilled because none were available.

The Forest Service terminated its previous contract on March 23, citing the need to save costs.

The change in contract would likely result in fewer available planes.