FAA Agrees To Help With Tankers

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It took no less than the U.S. Congress to get the FAA, NTSB and Forest Service in a room together to come up with a plan that might get at least a portion of the country's grounded fire-tanker fleet back in the air. Last week, the Forest Service grounded 33 tankers after the NTSB raised serious concerns about their airworthiness. But once they were grounded, there they sat. The NTSB can't inspect and certify planes, and the FAA doesn't have jurisdiction over the firefighting birds. A request from concerned congresspersons compelled the FAA this week to agree to help the Forest Service come up with an inspection system of its own. FAA spokesman Les Dorr wouldn't speculate on whether the effort would put any airplanes back in the air in time for the wildfire season. Dorr said the Forest Service has "some pretty formidable challenges" in coming up with a credible inspection system because it lacks so much service history on many of the planes. Without knowing how (or how much) the ex-military tankers were used, Dorr said it's difficult to determine their fitness for the extreme maneuvers encountered in firefighting. However, any hope at all that the tankers might be back in service cheered politicians from fire-prone states. Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) likely spoke for all in saying, "Any air tankers returned to service before this summer's wildfire season will really help firefighting efforts on the ground." Others are calling on the White House to force the FAA to take over inspection of the firefighting fleet to get the planes back in the air.