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State of the Privately Operated Aerial Firefighting Industry


Aerial Firefighting Companies — Healthy, Safe, and Challenged By George Hill


fires. The problem is, if there are enough years of low fire activity, the government risks losing a good deal of its supplier base.


The fact is, we are in just such a year. According to data from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the amount of acreage burned by wildfires in the state so far this year is down 90 percent compared to what it was at the same time last year. Nationwide, the numbers are also down with 3,866,659 acres burned from Jan. 1 through Aug. 23 of this year by 31,892 fires, according to NIFC statistics. For the same period in 2018, the acreage destroyed was 6,174,297 by 41,827 fires.


CWN was a more viable concept at a time when helicopters not actively used for


firefighting were deployed on other types of missions. Often those helicopters were engaged in construction, infrastructure maintenance, and refurbishment. However, given the nature of specialized firefighting equipment, a permanent internal tank installation on


a large helicopter for


retardant dropping may make the aircraft no longer suitable for other work such as main deck cargo transport.


Today, the industry is in its initial phases of adjusting to the CWN trend. It continues to be a work in progress. With the full evolution of adjustment, there will be a fundamental shift in the way that aerial firefighting companies plan and invest.


Along with this, contract duration is decreasing. Until this year, fixed-wing airtanker exclusive-use contracts ran for a


rotorcraftpro.com 75


guaranteed five years, plus an additional five optional years. The contracts were renewable in one-year increments by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). With all options renewed, that meant that the contract could run as long as 10 years. Under the new system, these contracts are for a single base year plus four renewable option years, for a total of up to five years.


Helicopter operators are also seeing shorter contract periods. Currently, USFS exclusive-use contracts average 120 days (or four months) compared to as many as 180 days, the standard in previous years. As one operator notes, a four-month contract makes it harder to keep people employed.


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