Study: U.S. Should Revamp Air Fleet

A study has been released that the U.S. Forest Service should revamp its airborne firefighting fleet to include more amphibious water-scooping aircraft, reports Reuters.

Air tankers that carry fire retardant and helicopters should be used in supporting roles during the initial attack on fires before they get big, according to the study done for the Forest Service.

Scoopers cost less and can make more trips when water sources are nearby, while air tankers are better for fighting fires far from water, it said.

The call for an upgrade in the aging air fleet comes as the drought-stricken U.S. West has been ravaged by wildfires, including the worst ever recorded in Colorado.

U.S. firefighting aircraft have had least two fatal accidents this summer, with the crash of a C-130 tanker prompting the grounding of the eight-plane C-130 fleet. Two fatal crashes also took place in 2002.

Tankers carry retardant, which is more costly than water, and can only make about one-and-a-half trips an hour. Their key advantage is that they can support firefighters far from water sources needed by scoopers and helicopters, the study said.

The Forest Service’s fleet has historically been made up of helicopters and air tankers, including leased former military tankers that date back to the 1950s.

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