Active season, reduced contracts
Most areas of the country have experienced a spring that has been much colder and wetter than normal. April snow was common with many locations breaking records for both low temperatures and heavy precipitation. This has not been the case in the Southern Plains and desert Southwest where severe drought set up over the winter months and combined with higher than normal temperatures led to elevated fire conditions since the beginning of the year. Several states in this region have had aerial assets in place since January. As summer approaches, conditions are only aggravated with West Texas and Southeast New Mexico not receiving any precipitation since last October. Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle Kansas, and Eastern Colorado have received enough precipitation to initiate a green-up therefore lowering fire danger.
Sometimes one has to wonder about decisions made by fire managers. I was recently on an assignment with four other Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs). We were working a fire about eighty miles from where we were based and management decided to move the reload base to a small airport closer to the fire. Each aircraft has a loading trailer assigned to it and we were only using two of them to load the five SEATs. The logical thing to do was to leave the two trailers at the original base and use two more at the new base, but management insisted on moving everything. Well, you guessed it, a couple of days after the move a new fire broke out close to the first base and we were once again faced with long ferries.
Again, there will be no Exclusive Use SEAT contracts this year. The Department Of Interior (DOI) tried to pull a fast one and solicit bids on a contract that already existed. It did not take long for the General Accounting Office (GAO) to squelch that idea. Like last year, all SEATs will operate under the On Call Contract.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) has reduced the number of Exclusive Use Contracts for both the Heavy Air Tanker and the Type One Helicopter fleets. I can only speculate the reason for reductions is there are many more aircraft of both types available than were just a couple of years ago.
It is forecast to be a very active fire season for the 2018. All Western States that experienced excess precipitation over the winter will have a heavy fuel build up which will lead to wildland fires that are more difficult to control.
The USFS has dropped its plan to operate its own fleet of Lockheed C-130 Air Tankers. I saw nothing but problems with this program from the inception. It would have placed the government in direct competition with private contractors and as public aircraft they would have not been required to comply with rigorous inspections and flight crew requirements, as do their counterparts in the private sector. I am confident that if they had proceeded there would have been numerous lawsuits filed.
As things are about to get busy, I hope everyone remembers the training we received during the off-season months. Be safe, prosperous and I hope to see you in the mountains one day.