For Safety's Sake, Fewer Heavy Water Bombers

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The 2004 fire season might be a bit hotter since Monday's announced termination of contracts accounting for 33 heavy water bombers. The Forest Service and other federal agencies dropped the contracts citing "unacceptable risk" even as one of those aircraft last Friday worked a fire near Hot Springs. Motivation behind the move comes from three fire-fighting aircraft crashes from 1994-2002, the loss of seven crew members, and a subsequent April, 2004, list of safety recommendations from the NTSB (see AVweb's previous coverage). The NTSB's claim that the current heavy air-tanker rate is approximately $4,000 per flying hour might not have helped save jobs for the aging (some near 60 years) aircraft. A spokesman for the Forest Service says the government still has access to nearly 500 other aircraft for the purpose of fire fighting. With 33 aircraft capable of dropping more than 1,500 gallons per minute now out of the loop, that larger fleet of smaller aircraft still may seem like little consolation to some folks in wild fire country. But we do know one company that might not be so upset.