26-May-2014 Source: AHSAFA
The American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) applauds the decision by the Colorado Legislature to continue contracting for aerial firefighting services from the private sector, instead of opting for State ownership and operation of all fire-combating aircraft—which was under consideration.
The “Colorado Aerial Firefighting Fleet Acquisition” bill, known as SB 14-164, was signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper on Monday, May 12. Under the legislation, the State will purchase two fire-spotting planes, and contract for four, single-engine fixed-wing tankers, plus four helicopters from private operators. The State currently has contracts with private operators for two single-engine tankers.
“With Governor Hickenlooper’s signature on SB 14-164, the State of Colorado has been given the flexibility to contract for the use of aerial firefighting assets from private operators,” said Tom Eversole, AHSAFA’s Executive Director. “This will provide our operators with more opportunities to work, and at the same time, provide the State of Colorado with dedicated aircraft–available as needed–without the state having to expend the resources to establish and maintain a government-operated aerial firefighting infrastructure. Their own study, and our expertise, convinced the State that establishing its own aerial firefighting operation was not the way to go.”
Eversole specifically credits Colorado State Senator Steve King, Senate President Morgan Carroll, and Representatives Bob Gardner and Mike McLachlan—the prime sponsors of the legislation—for their successful, bipartisan efforts to bring SB 14-164 to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk.
“This is a positive, proactive step for the State of Colorado,” said Kristin Edwards, Vice President Marketing for Air Tractor, Inc., the Olney, Texas-based manufacturer of the AT-802F single engine tanker, which has been deployed under contract inColorado for years. “The increase in aerial assets called for in the legislation will allow more flexibility and greater available resources for fire protection in Colorado.”
As Edwards noted, “the contracting model” has worked well for Colorado, as well as other states. “It is easier for private industry to do this than for a government bureaucracy,” she pointed out. “If more states would follow Colorado’s example, it could lead to more opportunities for the aerial firefighting industry.”
Ron Hooper, Chief Executive Officer of Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Montana stated that, while there is no provision in the legislation for contracting large air tankers, “should the State of Colorado desire to have large airtankers in their tool box, we hope that they include funding to put them under contract rather than purchasing.” Neptune Aviation Services, Hooper explained, was among those suggesting it would be more cost effective for Colorado to contract with private operators for aerial firefighting services, instead of establishing a State-owned and maintained fleet.
Larry Kelley, Director of Fire Operations for CHI Aviation in Boise, reported that while he lauds Colorado’s decision to contract with the private sector, he is cautiously optimistic about contracting opportunities.
“We are taking a wait-and-see view, until we know more about the types of helicopters required, and the length of any contracts that may go out for bid,” Kelley said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a better idea of what Colorado’s requirements will be within the next few weeks.”
Air Tractor, CHI Aviation, and Neptune Aviation Services are members of AHSAFA, the Washington-based trade association representing the private aerial firefighting industry.