Maintenance issues prompt agencies to stop flying aircraft leased from private vendors

US firefighting agencies have decided to stop flying all 33 multi-engine air tankers leased from eight private vendors rather than assume responsibility for evaluating and maintaining their airworthiness.

The US Forest Service and the Department of the Interior plan to continue an "initial attack" strategy for fighting wildfires this year using 67 single-engined air tankers still on contract and more than 500 helitankers, says the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). The agencies also can activate three Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Lockheed Martin C-130 squadrons that have the modular airborne firefighting system, a 11,370 litre (3,000USgal) fluid dispersal system developed and owned by the NIFC.

The shift in resources comes in response to airworthiness concerns raised after three large air tanker crashes since 1994, which had prompted a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

An NTSB letter sent on 23 April called on the two agencies to take charge of overseeing the fleet upkeep, rather than rely on the private vendors to determine maintenance procedures.

"These agencies must ensure the continuing airworthiness of their firefighting aircraft, which necessarily includes monitoring the adequacy of their maintenance programmes," says the letter, which adds that the structural failure responsible for the three crashes "should not be considered an unavoidable risk of firefighting". However a critical issue is a lack of maintenance records available for most of the large air-tanker fleet.

The terminated contracts are: Aero Flight (three DC-4s); Aero Union (eight P-3s, three SP-2Hs, two DC-4s); ARDO (three DC-4s); Hawkins and Powers (two P2Vs); International Air Response (one DC-7); Minden Air (three P2Vs); Neptune Aviation Services (four P2Vs and spares); and TBM-Butler Aviation (one DC-4, one DC-6, three DC-7s).



Source: Flight International