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Tuesday
Jun052012

Accidents cut supply of air tankers as fire season begins

Neptune jet featured on company's website(MISSOULA)- Sunday’s crash of a Neptune Aviation fire place in Utah, and an emergency landing by another company’s plane in Nevada means there are only 9 flyable fire bombers left in the entire country, even as the 2012 fire season is just getting started.

Two crew members from Boise were killed Sunday when Neptune’s “Tanker 11” went down near the Utah-Nevada border after experiencing problems as it was making its second retardant run of the day. A Minden Air Corp plane, also one of the aging P2V tankers, had to make an emergency landing in Western Nevada Sunday morning when part of its landing gear failed to deploy.

That leaves the Forest Service with only 9 large tankers under contract to fight fires for the entire country. With Tanker 11 destroyed in Sunday’s crash, and the Minden plane suffering major damage in the emergency landing, the agency has just 8-conventional tankers and Neptune’s jet-powered tanker on contract. And the jet, known as the BAe-146, is seeing its first work on an “interim basis” after undergoing extensive tests in Missoula last year.

By comparison, the Forest Service had 44-tankers a decade ago for the 2002 fire season.

The agency had solicited proposals for “next generation” tankers like the Neptune jet. That process closed back in February but the Forest Service has yet to make any decisions about putting those any new planes on line, with the exception of using the Neptune jet this summer. 

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