Be-200 firefighters bid for US certification

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California company International Emergency Services (IES) and Russian airframer Beriev have finished initial trials in Russia of the Be-200 amphibian aircraft for use in the firefighting tanker role, in a bid to get US certification and clearance for the aircraft.

The tests, held in April and May, included ground trials of the aircraft's firefighting systems as well as water drops on a range near Beriev's Taganrog base.

The airframer says: "The United States Forest Service assessment says the Be-200, and its water-handling system, fully complies with the requirements of the [US] Interagency Tanker Board [which regulates tankers and providers in the USA]."

Beriev Be-200, Billypix

 Billypix

However, Beriev adds that a number of minor modifications will be required to the aircraft's firefighting systems for it to comply.

"The aircraft did extremely well with water drops. It is now being tested with retardant, which is more commonly used in America," says IES chief executive David Baskett.

IES hopes the tests will lead to certification in the USA, "which is a continuing process we are giving our attention to", Baskett says.

IES signed a letter of intent in 2010 for 10 of the Progress D-436TP-powered Be-200s - in a deal that could be worth as much as $400 million - which the company will operate or lease to tanker operators. In addition, it acts as a sales agent for the type in the USA and is in talks with a number of organisations over potential deals, says Richard Hulme, vice-president of IES.

He says the aircraft is ideal for the firefighting role as it has been "designed from scratch" for that purpose. Asking older, converted aircraft to perform in a similar way is like "asking a large airplane to act as a fighter", he says.

The Be-200 can land on water and scoop up 12,000 litres (3,000 USgal) of liquid into its hull. It can also be reconfigured for search and rescue or passenger transport, for instance to move a firefighting crew to a blaze.

With many of its existing firefighting aircraft coming to the end of their lives, the USA has an urgent need to renew its tanker fleet.

The US Federal Aviation Administration recently launched investigations into two separate Lockheed Neptune P2V tanker crashes.