AHSAFA Praises Congress For Funding Aerial Firefighting Fleet Modernization

Washington, DC., June 25, 2012….The American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) congratulate Congress for its passage of legislation authorizing the US Forest Service (USFS) to make multi-year, operational funding available to private operators for fleet modernization of large air tankers engaged in wildland fire suppression.  The Bill, S 3261, “Contract Awards For Large Air Tankers,” was signed by President Obama on June 13.

“With the President’s signature, current air tanker operators can move forward with plans to acquire new tankers, and encourage qualified entrepreneurs to enter the business using modern aircraft,” said Tom Eversole, AHSAFA Executive Director.  “It is definitely a first step toward deployment of a new generation of aerial firefighting assets, which will help the industry grow into a more effective wildland firefighting force.”

The legislation initially authorizes $24 million for the USFS to fund exclusive use contracts for wildfire suppression by four companies.  The contracts are for a base period of five years, with five, one-year options for contracts awarded in 2012, and four, one-year options for those awarded in 2013.  The four operators–Neptune Aviation Services, Inc., Minden Air Corporation, Aero Air LLC, and Aero Flite, Inc.–will be contractually obligated to provide a total of seven next-generation tankers in 2012 and 2013.  The aircraft proposed by the companies include the British Aerospace BAe 146 and Avro RJ85, and the McDonnell Douglas MD87.  All are late-model, commercial jets, reconfigured for the air tanker role.  Eversole noted that the USFS has indicated a need for 26-28 tankers to achieve total fleet modernization over time.

“The contracts represent significant progress in our collaboration between AHSAFA and the USFS, since 2005, when the industry requested the agency to provide specifications for new air tanker requirements,” said Eversole.  “When the USFS issued a request for proposal for new air tanker platforms last October, the aerial tanker operators had already developed a road map proposal for fleet modernization, which we presented to the agency.  Thanks to our ongoing dialog with the USFS, we found the industry proposal and the agency’s request for proposal reinforced one another.”

Eversole also credited the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as a driving force.  “Working with the members and staff of the Committee, as well as the USFS, helped us reach this point.”

One of the four companies, Neptune Aviation Services has been operating a BAe 146 tanker since last September under Interagency Airtanker Board interim approval.  Neptune has been demonstrating the viability of the new-generation tanker under real world conditions–more recently the massive Whitewater-Baldy fire in New Mexico–according to Dan Snyder, President of the Missoula, Montana-based company.

“The reports we are getting from the USFS indicate the BAe 146 is performing as expected, or better,” he said.  “The aircraft is able to reach a fire in half the time it takes our propeller-driven P2V’s.” Neptune expects to have three BAe 146 tankers available by year-end.

“The contract awards give Neptune Aviation Services the ability to continue to provide more Next Generation air tankers to the USFS,” said Snyder.  “With just this contract we have the ability to provide as many as 6 additional new air tankers to the nation’s large air tanker fleet, for up to 10 years.”

Neptune Aviation is a member of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), a Washington-based trade association representing commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

NEPTUNE Aviation’s Tanker 11 Accident in Western Utah

Missoula, Montana —  On June 3, 2012, Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Montana experienced a fatal aircraft accident while performing aerial firefighting activities in western Utah.

Captain Todd Tompkins and First Officer Ron Chambless were flying Tanker 11, a Lockheed P2V-7, when the aircraft made contact with the ground while flying in the active fire drop zone. The aircraft was dispatched from the Cedar City, Utah airtanker base to the White Rock Fire near the Utah-Nevada state line. Neither crewmember survived the accident.

Captain Tompkins had 20 years of aviation experience with 14 years as an airtanker pilot. He faithfully served Neptune Aviation since 2006. First Officer Chambless had 8 years of aviation experience with many years in wildland firefighting. This was his first fire season with Neptune Aviation.

In accordance with company policy, Neptune Aviation implemented a voluntary stand-down of its fleet in order for the Director of Flight Operations and Director of Maintenance to debrief all crewmembers and mechanics before releasing the fleet back to active duty. At the time of this press release, Neptune’s fleet of airtankers has been released back to active duty.

We want to take this opportunity to send our thoughts to Minden Air and the crewmembers of Tanker 55.  We are so grateful that those involved did not sustain injuries.

For more information, please contact Mike Pfau. At this time, Neptune Aviation is unable to comment as to any accident specifics. The investigation has been turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board. Neptune continues to work closely with the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, United States Department of Interior, Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and local authorities.

Neptune Aviation Services was incorporated in May 1993 after purchasing the assets of Black Hills Aviation of Alamogordo, New Mexico. Upon acquiring its fleet and personnel, Neptune relocated its main base of operations to Missoula, Montana, substantially increasing in size and capabilities. Currently, Neptune has a mixed fleet of Lockheed P2V and British Aerospace BAe-146 aircraft.

“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with all the family and friends of those impacted by this event. Todd and Ronnie were truly considered a part of our family and they will be deeply missed.” Said Kristen Nicolarsen, CEO of Neptune Aviation.

Neptune Aviation is a member of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), a Washington-based trade association representing commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.

Contact: Mike Pfau
Neptune Aviation Services
Telephone: 406.542.0606