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Only one next-gen tanker flying

Jun 9, 2013 - The Associated Press

The other six planes have yet to be certified, a process that can take as much as two months.

CHEYENNE -- As fire season heats up, the U.S. Forest Service remains able to use only one of seven large, state-of-the-art air tanker planes it contracted last month to fight wildfires.

The other six planes have yet to be certified, a process that could take as much as two more months under the contract terms, according to U.S Forest Service spokesman Mike Ferris at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

"They could come on sooner," Ferris said Friday. "They just have to go through the steps to get them certified."

The Forest Service announced May 6 it was contracting five companies for the seven "next-generation" air tankers. The Forest Service has awarded the next-generation contracts twice in the past year -- the agency did so last year but started the process over after two companies that didn't get contracts filed protests.

One of the protesters was 10 Tanker Air Carrier, which flies two DC-10 passenger jets modified to drop fire retardant. The company won a contract in the latest round to fly one of its planes.

The DC-10 has been ready to go, got Forest Service-certified, and now is the only plane as yet flying under the next-generation contract. The plane dropped slurry on the recent fires in southern California and lately has been fighting fires in New Mexico.

"These other airplanes aren't ready. They're in development. And it's yet to be shown when they'll be ready and, if they're ready, how well they will work," said Rick Hatton, president of 10 Tanker.

The company based in Victorville, Calif., is moving its headquarters to Casper.

The so-called "next-generation" turboprop and jet planes are bigger and faster than air tankers previously contracted by the Forest Service. The planes must be able to carry at least 3,000 gallons of slurry and fly at least 350 mph.

The certification process still to be completed by four of the five companies includes proving the planes' slurry tanks. Certification also requires being approved for field trials and having Federal Aviation Administration certificates, according to Ferris.

He said he didn't know if the four companies were on target to get their planes certified no later than Aug. 2 and 10, as their contracts require.

"I would assume they're eager to meet those expectations," he said.

The other four companies are Minden Air Corp., of Minden, Nev., to fly one BAe-146; Aero Air LLC, of Hillsboro, Ore., two MD87s; Aero Flite Inc., of Kingman, Ariz., two Avro RJ85s; and Coulson Aircrane (USA) Inc., of Portland, Ore., one C130Q.

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