Skip to comments.Contract Dispute Grounds Firefighting Planes
Posted on 09/07/2011 3:59:00 PM PDT by NorwegianViking
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.
Obama is EVIL.
The contract termination smells of labor cartel corruption. This company must be non union or taking a hard line on labor cartel negotiations.
This is outrageous!!!
With Texas burning, and California entering her fire season, this is unconscionable.
The feds are grounding tankers and turning away volunteer firefighters in Texas. I am being to wonder if he doesn’t just want Texas to burn or he is trying to destroy/punish Perry and/or GW Bush.
Makes you wonder if Obama’s minions are starting the fires....and Obama ordered it(in a round about way,of course).
He has also previousuly refused FEMA money to Texas.
He is truely evil.
Could it be Aero Union is non-union?
In 2003 and again in 2007 we had terrible fires in San Diego County. In both cases the Navy and Marine Corps offered their helicopters to help immediately. They were turned down by California Department of Forests (CDF). People died as a result of the slow response by CDF. Here we go again.
My thought as well ... Something smells of union intimidation behind. (Nevertheless, notice that the US Forest Svc is claiming that they “want to save lives” (by grounding the certified and airworthy aircraft!?)
Disagreement about aircraft maintenance best practices?
What does the FAA think? Does it go along with Obama? Or is it union mechanics spoiling for more business?
And they want what, a fifteen year plan? Was the contract to be of that long a duration? Why not just renew it for another year if the aircraft are OK now?
5 weeks ago anybody watching the Weather Channel knew there was going to be a 'fire' problem somewhere in the South.
This is an area where those upcoming stimulus dollars could actually have a positive effect. The firefighting fleet is really old and difficult to maintain. A new medium capacity purpose-built firefighting aircraft would not only employ a lot of people, but a contract that gave the government part of the proceeds from sales to other countries would help recoup the cost.
Charlton Heston had a famous line in Planet of the Apes... when he finally saw the Statue of Liberty and understood... well what he said goes to obama and his admin to the power of 10! FUbo.
Some more of the OA tutor’s “never let a good crisis go to waste” meme, no doubt !
I wonder what would happen if TX Governor Perry contracted with Aero Union ? So long as the aircraft have a current AWC/inspection and the pilots meet FAA currency and type certs I don’t think there FA the “One” can do so long as their ops are confined to state and private lands. >PS