REDDING, CA – the United States Forest Service (USFS) has announced plans to replace its air tanker fleet. Aircraft in the fleet are, on the average, 50 years old. Many units in the fleet will have to be retired during the next 10 years. The USFS hopes to replace existing airplanes with newer, faster, and more cost-effective units. The plan is mentioned in a 12-page modernization strategy, but does not indicate when the changeover will occur.
The modernization plan comes on the heels of three large air tanker crashes since 2002, which killed eight people. Recommendations for the next generation of aircraft include carrying a minimum of 1,800 gallons of mixed retardant (greater than 3,000 gallons preferred) and a minimum cruise speed of 345 mph for quick fire response over long distances.
Other recommendations include using turbine engines, which are reportedly more reliable, more fuel efficient, and require less maintenance.
The decision to modernize its air tanker fleet comes after an announcement to eliminate two firefighting helicopters based in Alturas, CA and Orland, CA, as well as two others in Oakridge, OR and Porterville, OR.
Taking out these helicopters will reportedly reduce helicopter firefighting support by more than 20 percent of recommended levels.
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