...As Confusion Reigns Over Fate of Big Tankers

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Meanwhile, at least two federal agencies appear to be at odds over whether the big tankers will be back in time for any part of this year's fire season. Last Sunday, Forest Service officials told a meeting of western governors what they wanted to hear, namely that the agency will consider putting at least some of the aircraft back in service. But at the same time U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton was telling Arizona residents the big tankers won't be back and the state was making other plans, including the addition of SEAT aircraft. The Forest Service is, however, going ahead with safety assessments of the large tankers. Texas-based DynCorp Technical Services has been hired to pull together the manufacturers, former users, current operators, the FAA, the NTSB and all available service, maintenance and repair records to determine the airworthiness of each aircraft. "By mid-July we may see some recommendations as to which tankers might be airworthy, which doesn't mean they will necessarily be flying," said Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes.