...Plane Owners Slam "Shoddy" NTSB Report

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Of course, the people whose livelihood depends on flying these airplanes don't agree with the reports and say they are needlessly being put out of business. "We have a maintenance program that exceeds the airlines," Neptune Aviation CEO Mark Timmons told The Missoulian. "What we have here is a very shoddy research paper by the safety board and most of the people who have read it are horrified." Timmons said the NTSB only looked at the practices of one company involved in the 2002 crashes (Wyoming-based Hawkins and Powers) and extrapolated the findings to the whole industry. "In doing so, they presented a report with all sorts of fallacies and incorrect information," Timmons said. At least one U.S. company, Air Tractor, could benefit. Air Tractor makes purpose-built single-engine air tankers that drop smaller loads (about 800 gallons vs. up to 3,000 gallons in the largest aircraft) but may be able to do so more precisely. In a news release, Air Tractor said its AT-802 tanker "is set to play a critical role" in the coming season. It comes in a wheeled version that must be refilled at a tanker base or on amphibious floats that can scoop up water from a lake or pond. But proponents of the large aircraft say the bigger loads they carry are critical to the control of fires at the early stages. They also have the fuel reserves and speed to fight fires hundreds of miles from their bases. Canadian operators of large tankers might also benefit from the grounding of the U.S. fleet, depending, of course, on the fire situation north of the border. Last year, Canada had one of its worst fire seasons ever and dry conditions are prevailing over much of the West.