Responding quickly to fill the hole left in the nation's fleet of wildfire suppression air tankers after accidents last weekend caused the loss of one and the grounding of another of the 11 available air tankers, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to expedite the contracting process so that at least seven new air tankers can be added to the fleet.
The U.S. Forest Service has made decisions regarding contracts for seven next generation air tankers, however, those contracts cannot be awarded until after a 30 day waiting period. Wyden's legislation will allow for a waiver of that waiting period to get the planes into service as soon as possible.
"With hundreds of thousands of acres burning and a severely depleted capacity for sending air tankers to battle these fires, I see nothing that can be served by the Congress sitting on its hands and waiting for those 30 days to expire," Wyden said. "The sooner the Forest Service can award these contracts, the sooner those air tankers can join the rest of the fleet protecting the lives, lands and homes of Americans."
"While it will be months before these planes are available to fly, there is no point in everyone sitting around waiting for this Congressional notification period to expire," Bingaman said. "I'm pleased that the Senate was able to act quickly so the Forest Service can move forward with unveiling these contracts. I look forward to seeing the details of their plan."
The Forest Service notified Congress on May 25 that it intended to award four contracts for seven planes to partially fulfill the government's need for large air tankers. The Forest Service also requested that Congress waive the 30 waiting period. That was a week before two accidents involving Forest Service air tankers left one plane totaled and another likely out for the season with landing gear damage. The loss of these tankers brings the total number of serviceable tankers down to nine and creates an even more acute need for getting more air tankers into service as soon as possible.