Largest firefighting planes may be sold for COVID-19 compliance

Denver (AP) —Western states could help fight another crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, with the world’s largest fire extinguishing plane landing in preparation for this year’s wildfire season.

Alterna’s managing director, Roger Miller, spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading global super tankers and their technology, and the revenue came primarily from contracts between the U.S. government and California, but to tankers. It states that it did not make enough money to continue funding. Capital Partners LLC, an investment company that owns airplanes.

Alterna’s decision to ground the Supertanker was made on April 19, according to a company that has funded airplane operations and upgrades since 2016. Since its announcement, the Connecticut-based company has bought a supertanker and called it a freighter, Miller.

“The COVID crisis has created a huge boom in the aircraft freighter market, which flies around PPE and around vaccines. Everything you can’t afford to wait 45 days on board,” Miller said. ..

The company is open to potential investors who want to continue using SuperTanker in response to wildfires, but if the freight company offers a more attractive offer, the company will sell it to them, Miller said. Said.

In order for Supertanker to prepare for the 2021 wildfire season, the plane will need to go through a federal certification process by June, said Dunleys, president of Global Supertanker Services.

While the company was considering options, two Washington state legislators sent a letter to members of the US Congress in Western Province on Tuesday urging them to find a solution to continue the Supertanker operation. A catastrophic fire. “

“Our time is limited throughout the week,” they write. “We need aggressive buyers, investor groups, or government loan guarantees to protect our lives, our economy, and our environment from this devastating enemy.”

According to the National Inter-Ministry Fire Center in Idaho, 58,950 wildfires in excess of 15,816 square miles (40,963.29 square kilometers) occurred during the 2020 season.

The Global Supertanker is one of several very large air tankers used to drop flame retardants and water to fight wildfires from above. When the retarder dries, it rejects oxygen to the vegetation to prevent the spread of fire.

However, some firefighters, such as Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, have said that the dangers of aerial firefighters, the specific environmental factors required to operate tankers, and the overall cost of flame retardants. ..

“No or very rarely,” flame retardants are used in the Midwest or East Coast, Stahl said. He said flame retardants are a phenomenon in western states because of the large amount of federal land and the US Forest Office has the money to spend on flame retardants. This is “more expensive than taking Perrier off the plane,” says Stahl.

In 2020, federal and state agencies dropped over 56 million gallons (211,983,060 liters) of retarders, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This costs an average of $ 3.10 per gallon.

“Delay agents contracts are very beneficial to a small group of very influential firefighting companies and the bureaucrats who use them. Delay agents show the people who are really working hard to protect their homes. It’s a great way, “said Stahl.

However, Michael Degroski, director of conservation at Montana’s Natural Resources Conservation Department, said there is time and place to use effective retarders.

“As with all tools, you need to use the right tool in the right situation,” says De Grosky. “In my personal experience, retarders are most effective in the first attack. They can be used very effectively when trying to guide a fire and pull it away from your home or property.”

Other large air tankers can carry up to 8,000 gallons (30,283 liters) of flame retardants, according to the US Forest Office.

A modified Boeing 747, the Global Supertanker can dump up to 19,200 gallons (72,678 liters) of water or flame retardants in 6 seconds and fly up to 200 feet (61 meters) above the ground. It can be replenished in just 13 minutes. There are other Boeing 747s used in firefighting activities, but with less capacity.

Domestically, SuperTanker is used primarily in California and Oregon in 2018. Fire authorities in Washington and Montana said SuperTankers are not used in each state and will not affect fire response this season.

“There is always other pressure on the system as it is not available in normal operation in California or Oregon. The aircraft we depend on may be committed there, but with a direct impact. I can’t see it, “Degroski said of his response to the wildfire in Montana.

Officials in Montana and Washington said they would secure access to additional planes and helicopters through regional and national contracts with the state fire department for other aircraft for the next season.

SuperTankers were also deployed in Israel in 2016 and Chile in 2017. The cost can be as high as $ 250,000 per day.


Nieberg is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in the local newsroom to report on unreported issues.