...Safety Concerns Raised In 2002...

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This week's controversy erupted from an April 23 NTSB report on the crashes of three air tankers (two C-130As and a PB4Y2 Privateer) in the 2002 firefighting season. It said "no effective mechanism currently exists to ensure the continuing airworthiness of these firefighting aircraft." But an earlier report (finished in December 2002 and apparently ignored for the 2003 firefighting season) commissioned by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management paints an even more disturbing picture of the state of the large tanker fleet and suggests the government's penny-pinching ways have created a culture where unacceptable risk is taken for granted. The report, prepared hastily by a five-member independent panel in the wake of the 2002 crashes, reaches many of the same conclusions contained in the recent NTSB document and even predicts the grounding of the fleet. But it also says that firefighting contracts essentially ignore safety in the "widespread short-term pursuit of cost efficiency." It further says the miserly contracts "contain disincentives to flight safety" and calls the large air-tanker safety record "deplorable."