Despite the shutdown of the Federal government, amid on-going budget battles in Congress, the privately operated aerial firefighting industry continues to be mission-ready, with no disruptions to contracts currently in place with the US Forest Service (USFS).
“I want to assure the public that our companies, which have flown fixed wing air tankers and helicopters on this year’s devastating wildland fires are still on the job, and prepared to deploy aircraft and crews, if needed,” stated Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the Washington-based American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA). “Our members report no problems with contracts negotiated for the 2013 fire season, even with the continuing budget stalemate in Congress, and Federal employee furloughs.”
In fact, several operators emphasized they have seen no difficulties, at this time, stemming from the Federal budget situation.
“If we are needed on a fire tomorrow, there would be no problem deploying an aircraft and crew,” said Todd Petersen, Vice-President-Marketing, for Portland, Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters. The company has a single Chinook helicopter on an exclusive use contract—through October 27—with the Forest Service. Petersen observed that even with the furloughs at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the company’s USFS contracting officer is still in the Boise office and available to handle any issues that might arise.
He added that if there is a concern, it would be with timely payments. “So far, we have not seen any payments being held up,” he said.
“It’s business as usual for us—so far,” said Rick Livingston, President of Intermountain Helicopter in Sonora, California. The company has a Bell 212 helicopter under a Forest Service exclusive use contract, which he reported has been extended beyond its September 27 expiration date. The Bell 212 is currently working out of Ramona, California, under the contract extension, which Livingston reported is “day to day.”
“Our contracting office representative is still in the field, so we have had no operational impact from the government shutdown,” Livingston said.
Air tanker firm Neptune Aviation is also seeing no operational problems deriving from the shutdown right now, according to Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer, in Missoula, Montana. In fact, he reported the company has six tankers—five of its legacy P2V Neptunes, and one BAe 146 new generation tanker—on exclusive use contracts, with most continuing to run through the end of October. The BAe 146 will remain under contract through November 15. However, he pointed out that payments to the company from the Forest Service have been running late, which he attributed to the shutdown.
“There is a diminished number of USFS management staff to work with; but, from an operations standpoint, we have not seen any problems,” he stressed. “All six of our tankers are operating from five USFS tanker bases in California right now, and—so far—there are still USFS personnel to interface with at those bases.”
Columbia Helicopters, Intermountain Helicopter, and Neptune Aviation are members of The American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association, the Washington-based trade association representing the private aerial firefighting industry.