Some Of The Oldest Deemed Unsafe
The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior Monday
terminated contracts with the owners of 33 aging firefighting
aircraft, saying their airworthiness can no longer be assured.
The surprise decision comes in the wake of three crashes
involving such older aircraft between 1994 and 2002. Forest Service
Chief Dale Bosworth said the aircraft -- some of them more than 60
years old -- an "unacceptable risk" to those who fly them,
firefighters on the ground and people who live in areas threatened
The aging planes include the DC-4, DC-7 and P-3.
"It's serious, but we will be able to do our job," said Forest
Service spokesman Dan Jiron. Terminating the 33 contracts leaves
the Forest Service with 491 aircraft -- both fixed-wing and rotor
-- in its firefighting inventory.
The Forest Service had grounded tankers in 2002, after two
firefighting aircraft went down while on the job in California and
Colorado. In both cases, wings folded on the aircraft as they were
Most of the aircraft suspended two years ago were reinstated to
flying status after they were inspected by the Energy Department's
Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque (NM). But last month, the
NTSB reported that maintenance and inspection programs were not
"It was apparent that no effective mechanism currently exists to
ensure the continuing airworthiness of these firefighting
aircraft," the report said.
The reason? The NTSB
said there was no way to completely assess the structural stresses
that aircraft endure while fighting fires. Nor could officials
figure out a way to trace an aircraft's maintenance background all
the way back -- including, if appropriate, the aircraft's time in
The government says it can fight wildfires with the remaining
fleet of aerial tankers. But many both inside and outside of the
Forest Service say the loss of 33 aircraft and the prospect of a
long, hot summer on the fire line mean those aircraft will be
The Portland Oregonian reports the fire season there, as in
other places, is already underway and, yes, it's a bit early. But
firefighting officials are worried that, with military resources
stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given the elevated fire
risk across the West, "What it's starting to look like, to us
anyway, is the perfect storm," said Mike Fitzpatrick of the
Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.