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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”?