Fire Study Pits Scoopers vs Tankers

A study suggests that the U.S. Forest Service should drop using repurposed air tankers to put out wildfires and bring a new fleet of water-scooping aircraft.

The findings are odds with the service’s strategy to acquire more tankers to replace the current aging aerial fleet.

The Forest Service commissioned the RAND Corp. study three years ago. The aim was to decide on a mix of aircraft that counters the $1.6 billion annually. The plan is to acquire 18 and 28 tankers in the coming years.

The agency’s fleet has dwindled from 44 to nine, due to aging planes that have crashed or been grounded.

The study found that scoopers, which skim water from lakes or other bodies of water, are more cost-effective than the air tankers. Scoopers can make multiple drops and tankers must land and refuel between each run.

A scooper able to drop 1,600 gallons of water costs around $2.8 million. A tanker able to drop 3,000 gallons of flame retardant costs roughly $7.1 million annually–without the cost of the retardant.

The study found that two-thirds of fires break out in areas accessible by scoopers. A smaller number of tankers would be useful in areas far from bodies of water.

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