Five "Heavy" Air Tankers Return To Service Today

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Five P-3 Orions will return to service fighting fires in the Western U.S. today. The Forest Service had cancelled its contracts with its fleet of 33 aging tankers in May, after an NTSB report on three fatal crashes raised concerns about a lack of safety guidelines for the firefighting aircraft. To establish a set of guidelines, the Forest Service has hired DynCorp Technical Services, of Fort Worth, Texas. So far the five P-3s have passed, and DynCorp has three more reviews in progress. The new criteria include a maximum of 19,000 hours of operation for each aircraft. The five P-3s cleared for service, which are owned and operated by Aero Union Corp. in Chico, Calif., are the youngest of the fleet, and have 3,000 to 7,000 hours of operation left. Each tanker usually flies about 300 hours per year. The five P-3s are expected to be deployed to Fairbanks, Alaska; Moses Lake, Wash.; Prescott, Ariz.; BLM's Battle Mountain Air Tanker Base, 220 miles northeast of Reno; and Landcaster, Calif., according to the Associated Press.

"DynCorp Technical Services provided the expert analysis, and has worked to research the operations and maintenance records of these aircraft, and performed a thorough site visit to examine them," Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said in a news release Friday. "With better information, and a precedent set for more thorough inspections by the contractors, we believe we can operate this equipment safely this fire season." The aircraft and pilots will be re-certified with a check pilot, and new contracts are being negotiated and implemented, the Forest Service said. DynCorp is currently examining the data from five other contractors, and will submit each report to the Forest Service as it is completed.