Small Air Tankers Grounded Briefly

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Crashes Spark Safety Stand-Down ...

While various federal agencies ponder the relative safety of 33 currently grounded large air tankers, the NTSB has pointed out that the single-engine air tankers (SEATs) that are to replace them have some safety issues of their own. In fact, the big tankers were essentially pulled from service because of two crashes in 2002 (albeit both of them from airframe failures) while there have already been three fatal crashes this year in PZL-Mielec M-18 Dromaders, all of them operated by Montana-based New Frontier Aviation. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grounded all 26 Dromaders under contract for a two-day "safety stand down" that ended last Monday. In the most recent accident, near St. George, Utah, the plane dove vertically into trees after dropping retardant on a fire in mountainous terrain. Last May 22, a Dromader went down in Idaho while being ferried to a firefighting base and on March 16 another crashed during a simulated retardant drop near Safford, Ariz.