- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - The chief executive of an air tanker company based in Montana said he’s eagerly waiting to find out which of its planes the U.S. Forest Service will hire to fight wildfires next year.

Neptune Aviation’s firefighting jets are back in Missoula for the winter, and the company is waiting for the Forest Service to announce its next air tanker contracts. Neptune still has three years left on a contract to fly six P2V propeller-driven tankers and one BAe-146 jet-powered slurry bomber.

A one-season contract for three of the jet tankers has expired, however. Meanwhile, the company recently brought on two more BAe-146 tankers, for a total of six.

Company officials have been anxious to see how many of the six jets will have work next year, Chief Executive Officer Ron Hooper told the Missoulian (https://bit.ly/1FgJjlD).

“We expected to see the notice on the first of November,” Hooper said.

Competitors for contracts include 10 Tanker Air Carrier, which flies DC-10 air tankers and for a time in 2013 was moving its headquarters to Casper, Wyoming. The company now is based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Four other companies successfully have landed “next-generation” Forest Service contracts for planes able to carry at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant and fly at least 350 mph.

Several of those companies have challenged Neptune’s bids for a slice of the business and got the company’s contract awards overturned.

“We hope within the next month or so to have that contract out,” Forest Service Director of Fire and Aviation Management Tom Harbour said. “We’re trying to learn from each iteration of this contract, trying to make the changes that make a better contract for vendors and for us.”

The requirements for payload and speed haven’t changed, but much work has gone into treating all vendors on a level playing field, Harbour said.

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Information from: Missoulian, https://www.missoulian.com


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