US Forest Service cuts air tanker contracts

Neptune Aviation BAe 146 air tankers

Two BAe 146 air tankers await the attention of Neptune Aviation’s maintenance crews on the ramp at Missoula (Neptune Aviation/Robyn Jurinski)

The US Forest Service (USFS) has reduced the number of exclusive use air tanker contracts for the 2018 fire season to 13, compared to 20 last year. A further eleven tankers will receive call-when-needed contracts. Neptune Aviation has received exclusive use contracts for BAe 146 air tankers 01 (msn E2045), 03 (msn E2192), 16 (msn E2074), and 41 (msn E2136), and call-when-needed contracts for tankers 02 (msn E2045), 10 (msn E2138), 15 (msn E2103), and 40 (msn E2049), while Aero-Flite has received exclusive use contracts for Avro RJ85 air tankers 161 (msn E2256), 162 (msn E2293), 164 (msn E2266), and 167 (msn E2330) and call-when-needed contracts for tankers 160 (msn E2270), 163 (msn E2288), 165, and 166. The remaining exclusive use contracts have been awarded to 10 Tanker for two McDonnell Douglas DC-10s, Aero Air for two MD-87s, and to Coulson for a Lockheed Hercules. The reduction in exclusive use contracts is hitting Neptune particularly hard; in 2017, the company had seven such contracts for its 146s, plus an additional four contracts for Lockheed P2V Neptunes (which have now been retired). Although the reduction in exclusive use contracts was motivated by budget constraints, it might end up costing the USFS considerably more if this year’s fire season proves as busy as last year’s, as call-when-needed contracts have much higher hourly rates.

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