(WASHINGTON, D.C.)- The U.S. Forest Service has pulled the plug on its contract with a California-based company, citing major safety concerns.
The Forest Service announced Friday that it was terminating its contract with Aero Union of Sacramento, saying the company had “failed to meet its contractual obligations.” Specifically, the agency cited concerns over Aero Union’s safety capabilities.
"Our main priority is protecting and saving lives, and we can't in good conscience maintain an aviation contract where we feel lives may be put at risk due to inadequate safety practices” said Tom Harbour, director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program. “This contract termination notwithstanding, we possess the aircraft support needed for this year's fire season."
Aero Union had been providing six airtankers to the Forest Service firefighting efforts. The Forest Service says the planes didn’t pass FAA inspection for its structural requirements.
The tankers used in aerial firefighting have to withstand tremendous stress, and frequently the planes are based on older planes that have been in service for many seasons.
Forest Service officials say they still have access to 11 other planes from two other private companies, including Neptune Aviation in Missoula. Neptune has been testing a new jet-powered tanker over Missoula the past couple of weeks.
Other tankers are available to the Forest Service from Alaska, as well as contracted helicopters and a few military aircraft.