State Aircraft Fleet for Colorado, David Cant

As a long time observer of the air tanker situation in the US from here in Australia, I am often surprised why some US States don’t build in a capacity for aerial fire fighting outside of Federal lands jurisdictions.

I noted with interest Colorado Senators proposing a fleet outside the national USFS tanker fleet. I wrote to the two main proponents this week how they could do this with not much money at possibly half the cost of the $20 million they are proposing. Unfortunately as usual, no response.

If you overlook Federal lands and leave responses to NIFC, concentrate your aerial responses to an identified wild land urban interface zones across the State and place low cost and effective aircraft such as SEATS and type 2 helicopters in those localities.  Have a very early initial attack  strategy with predetermined responses so aircraft are responding to support ground fire fighters within a couple of minutes of the first fire report. Respond air attack supervisors at the same time so early community information on the fire status is communicated via the web, social media and by local media.  Direct attack the incipient fire with suppressants that extinguish the fire rather than letting the fire build and burn to a line.  Have a couple of higher cost Type 1 helicopters strategically located at the peak fire danger  time of the season to assist with high capacity direct attack on the worst days. Mutual aid response on Federal lands to keep fires away from interface areas and so on.

I developed a similar strategy for South Australia over 16 years ago and it works!  Use those aerial assets early and they are effective and far more economical.  It won’t stop the unstoppable fire, but you may have far less impact, loss of housing and mandatory evacuations.


  1. Jerome says:

    CalFire has a good model; copy and paste…per State.
    Tactical spread + combination of IA aircraft (Copters and Tankers)

    Few LAT’s and VLAT to back up the IA could be shared by 2 or 3 States.

  2. davidcant says:

    What Calfire does is great Jerome but it isn’t a low cost model even though they get the aircraft for next to nothing. The investment to certify, maintain and manage those assets is probably out of the realm of most jurisdictions. The third party contracted service provider model works well, minimises the State asset liability and could be more achievable to augment the Federal air tanker fleet.

    The secret to achieve economic constraint is using a smart and well defined strategy and planned methodology for initial attack response.

    • Dean Talley says:

      Good conversation. I have hopes we aren’t just talking to ourselves. Also, here is a little more background.

      The state of Colorado already contracts a small number of SEATS. I don’t know how many, possibly three. One contractor seemed to have a leg-up for a number of years and got a premium price; reportedly, supplying well qualified experienced crews and excellent equipment. Last year that changed and the contracts went to another contractor for a lower price. My intention is not to throw rocks at anyone but when you approach the problem, how do you strike a balance between the cheapest solution, without compromising the mission and everyone’s favorite subject, safety?

      As front line resources we have all seen how effective and ineffective our efforts can be. We all have subjective observations to offer about fighting or managing fires. What we have completely failed to do, in industry and agencies, is offer objective data to support our efforts for the people who make all the important decisions and often have no idea what we do or why we do it. Until we can make an accountant happy these discussions are largely fruitless.

      Last week a fire broke out west of Fort Collins Colorado. It was wind driven and grew rapidly. The call went out for tankers. Although there were three large airtankers on-contract, reportedly, there were none available., I have been on-contract for a month and haven’t turned a wheel on a fire. Another tanker sat in Alamogordo unused. It’s quite possible the tankers would not have been useful, timely, or effective, but the were available. In our world we are held accountable for our mistakes and actions. No one seems accountable for the dissembling of information, taken as fact, or the lack of a coherent system to use our resources effectively and proactively.

      I feel better now.

  3. Jerome says:

    Low cost and Aviation don’t mix.
    Low cost, Safety and Efficiency… really don’t mix.

    Prevention (cleaning the forests, protecting the structures) would really help.
    Better dispatching and managing the means (air and ground) is another important key.
    Having a sufficient number of dedicated, specialized aircraft to cover a territory (County,Region, State) is another important key along with a decent budget of course…

    Research Gary Reasons’s “swiss cheese theory” and adapt it to aerial fire fighting; lack of decisions, lack of budget, aging and reduced fleet, management and dispatch of the fleet, etc… everything is lining up to obtain catastrophies every fire season.


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