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Airtanker Fleet Needs Review

Congressman Jim Gibbons says an independent panel’s “scathing rebuke” of the Forest Service’s aerial firefighting fleet underscores the need for an overdue review of the nation’s overall wildland firefighting effort. Gibbons says Congress should conduct, in his words, “a complete top-to-bottom review of how we allocate dollars to fight fires.”

The Nevada Republican was among those who urged the Forest Service to investigate its aerial program after a C-130A air tanker crashed in the Sierra in June, killing all three crew members. A month later, another air tanker owned by the same contractor, Hawkins & Powers Aviation of Wyoming, sent two crewmembers to their death while fighting a fire in Colorado.

Gibbons says he doesn´t blame the families of the victims from being outraged. The agency’s blue ribbon panel issued a report Friday citing numerous safety concerns and the Forest Service responded by permanently grounding 11 aircraft and temporarily grounding many others pending a safety review.

One expert told the panel “from an engineering perspective, there is no assurance that any of the old military aircraft currently in operation are safe to fly as air tankers.”

The panel concluded, quoting now, “The fatal air tanker crashes this year were predictable.”