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Skip to comments.Contract Dispute Grounds Firefighting Planes (Sit idle in CA grounded by Obama Admin)
Posted on 09/07/2011 10:41:16 AM PDT by dragnet2
Firefighting air tankers are siting idle at a California airport, grounded by the Obama administration
Nearly half of the federal governments firefighting air tankers are siting idle at a California airport, grounded by the Obama administration in a contract dispute just weeks before wildfires swept through Texas killing a mother and her child, and destroying 100,000 acres.
The massive blazes forced Texas Gov. and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry to abruptly call off a campaign appearance in South Carolina earlier this week to respond to the crisis, and may force him to cancel his first debate appearance Wednesday night.
The U.S. Forest Service terminated the contract with Aero Union five weeks ago to operate seven P-3 Orions that are critical to the agencys firefighting mission, leaving the federal government with 11 tankers under contract to help battle more than 50 large uncontained wildfires now burning nationwide.
Thats down from 40 tankers used by the Forest Service just a decade ago, according to Rep. Dan Lungren (R.-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Administration, who is challenging the decision to dismiss the largest provider of heavy air-tanker support to the federal government.
We were certified to fly all season, but they just terminated us and threw 60 people out of work and left the country vulnerable to fires, as you can see right now in Texas, said Britt Gourley, CEO for Aero Union.
This is our 50th anniversary fighting fires for the Forest Service. Its not quite the way we wanted to celebrate it, Gourley said.
Gourley said the government did not provide details on why the contract was canceled, but that they did not agree with Aero Unions 15-year maintenance plan.
We wanted to sit down with them and ask why it was canceled and find a quick resolution, but they didnt want to talk about it. They just said, We dont want the airplanes, have a nice life, Gourley said. I had to let go of my staff60 people and their families were devastated, Gourley said. Its really been tragic.
The Forest Service says it will not use aircraft that does not meet its requirements, and in this case that included the long-term airworthiness inspection program, although the company passed its annual inspection.
Our main priority is protecting and saving lives, and we cant in good conscience maintain an aviation contract where we feel lives may be put at risk due to inadequate safety practices, said Tom Harbour, director of the Forest Services fire and aviation management program.
This contract termination notwithstanding, we possess the aircraft support needed for this years fire season, Harbour said.
In a letter to the administration questioning the canceled contracts that was obtained by HUMAN EVENTS, Lungren said the aircraft are some of the best available for fighting fires in the United States.
The [Federal Aviation Administration] representative stated that the disrupted contract issues which led to the grounding of Aero Unions entire fleet do not relate to the suitability of these aircraft to perform for the remainder of this fire season, Lungren said in the Aug. 15 letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose agency oversees the Forest Service.
I am deeply troubled by the Forest Services sudden action, particularly as California enters into the fire season. Our aerial firefighting fleet is already seriously undercapitalized, Lungren said.
In addition to the 11 tankers in the fleet still operating, two air tankers are under contract to operate on-call, and up to eight military firefighting aircraft can be called to assist if needed.
Aero Union operated six Lockheed P-3 Orions, and was preparing to add a seventh to the fleet when the contract was canceled. The four-engine turboprops were originally used as anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft that were built for the U.S. Navy.
Ultimately, those aircraft will be replaced with two-engine CV 580s from Canada, which Lungren said is worrisome because those aircraft will carry a smaller load of fuel-retardant and require more downtime.
Despite the contract cancellation, Gourley told HUMAN EVENTS he has reached out to his former employees and that they could have four planes up in 48 hours to fly to Texas rescue, and assist in other devastating fires burning in California.
First and foremost, we are firefighters at Aero Union, and we do not want to sit idle while the people of Texas and California suffer, Gourley said in a letter Tuesday to Harbour.
We feel strongly that a contract disagreement unrelated to the safety of our fleet to fight fires should not stand in the way of our mission at a time when these aircraft are most needed. The tragic scenes in Texas and California make any contract issues appear very secondary, Gourley said.
Perry toured the devastation near Austin on Tuesday and viewed some of the homes destroyed by the flames.
These fires are serious and widespread, and as mean as I have ever seen, burning more than 1,000 homes since this wildfire season began, Perry said.
Texas appreciates the resources and support we continue to receive from across the state and across the country to fight these fires, and the efforts of the brave men and women who put themselves in harm's way to protect Texans' lives and property. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are impacted by these fires, Perry said.
If you could insert the link. Thanks.
Dear God, take command of this entire situation, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Let those fire fighting planes become airborn to fulfill their mission according to thy Will! Amen
Now American civilian deaths to Hussein’s credit.
Hoo boy. I thought the unions and Obama were best forever friends. Why should they have any squabbles with Uncle Sam?
I am in agreement with you.
Oh, Lord in Heaven, have mercy on Texas!!!
Such evil, such unnecessary evil.
His hands are dripping with blood now.
The Government doesn’t care what the planes look like, or the mission they can perform, they care what the paperwork looks like. Annual inspection is only a small part of an overall maintenance program. Without the proper long term scheduled maintenance and air frame inspection detailed and documented by the aircraft operator, these planes will not meet the basic requirements to remain under US Gov’t contract.
The airlines work exactly the same way. An airliner can not carry passengers until ALL the paperwork is in order.
It isn’t helping the air tanker’s case that one shed a wing on video a year or so doing a drop mission. Determination was fatigue cracks in the main wing structure, not an uncommon problem with aircraft of this type used in low level, high performance flight envelope.
“I thought the unions and Obama were best forever friends.”
My understanding is that Aero Union is a nonunion shop and I am convinced that the union issue is the problem.
We desperately need to get this clown out of office. He is costing us lives.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they were not “green” enough. More American jobs shipped out of the country, this time to Canada.
The moslem-in-Chief is doing everything in his power to turn my country into another Haiti. What a shame.
Obama is indeed evil.
If he doesn’t do something he is turning the Southwest into HADES!!
A day doesn’t go by that this administration doesn’t do something to make me want to pull my hair and scream!
As the Church Lady would say... How conveeeeeeeeeeeeenient
The government has been trying to get away from using big old ex-military aircraft as tankers for a while now. The highly-public crashes of some old USAF-surplus C-130As (the incident you mentioned among them) accelerated that, although there was actually a bit of a government scandal around the operator getting those 1950s-vintage Hercs.
What makes no sense to me is hearing that they’re going to be replacing those P-3s—anti-sub aircraft that were designed for low-level flight—with Convair 580s? Those are turboprop-converted Convair 340 twin-engined airliners that are probably older than the Orions! I’d feel safer doing fire attack in an Orion than in a CV-580.
Why didn't you mention that the budget actually increased once the annual budget was “balanced”?
Not sure that these surplus airframes are up to the task of hauling heavy loads of H2O whilst pulling high g loads.
A Cl30 shed its wings during a fire suppression op a few years ago and was caught on film - absolutely heartstopping.
If this occurrs over a built up area the results could be
Has Gov Perry asked for them? I have not heard reports that he was demanding them, I mean Why isn`t Perry holding a press conference demanding Obama order the planes to Texas?
Is that $40 million ‘every’ year?
You’d think he’d be kicking over the podium, making big noise over this.
Has Gov Perry asked for them?
California ready to help combat Texas fires (Have not officially received a request)
A state fire official told CalCoastNews today that California is ready to respond to a request from Texas authorities should it come
Texas has come to us as well, and we have given them a rundown of our equipment, a spokesman for Cal Fire said in Sacramento. At this time, we have not officially received a request from them, but we have talked to them about what we can provide, knowing that we, too, are in the middle of fire season, and have been busy this last couple of weeks, especially.
But if we do get a request, well be happy to help.
This doesn’t add up. Look for the Union lable....
Most of these fire tanker operations are run on a shoestring budget. The level of professionalism is that of a cowboy riding in to save the day.
These fire events are not a recent development, they happen every year like clockwork.
Small companies buy old military airplanes because they are cheap, pennies on the dollar for what newer planes would cost. Also, none of these aircraft are purpose built for fire suppression missions. They are heavily modified from their original design.
Purpose built fire suppression tankers are available new. But there is no way a company can equip their fleet with new aircraft and be bid competitive with these companies flying the old military planes. So what we end up is planes older than the Edsel flying very important missions .
Every time the Government tries to get a modern fire suppression fleet , they end up having to accept the status quo because there is a fire NOW!
Well, feel free to provide a link when and who requested the help.
I looked and cannot find one.
It’s a yearly budget. It’s not like a state can operate without an itemized budget for 3 years, which is what Obama is doing with the federal government.
And last night it was reported that Texas volunteer (trained) firefighters tt showed up were informed that the feds had “taken control” of the fire fighting, and they had not been requested, and were not wanted: go home!
That is in regards to the fire in Bastrop County. There are hundreds of other fires in progress...
I know a little about how mutual aide and the NIMS (National Incident Management System) works. There is a command structure with logistics already pre-determined in NIMS. You ask for resources through a very tried-and-true system.
People showing up out-of-the-blue just indicates that they don’t know how the system works and would be dangerous to themselves and everyone around them.
You may not LIKE the way the system works - but it HAS been used for decades to fight large conflagrations. It started as the Incident Command System (ICS) here in California back in the late 70’s. It scales from a single engine to being able to manage & control thousands of resources.
Fighting fires is dangerous enough without adding in people who don’t have the training to keep themselves and those around them safe.