Air Support For Wildfires Uncertain...

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As Summer Fire Season Approaches

In states across the western U.S., wildfires are an inevitable part of summer, and aircraft are depended on to keep them under control. But with many operators facing tight budgets and a scarcity of airplanes, concerns are already widespread that the firefighting capacity will fall short. The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune reported this week that the federal fleet is in "crisis," with many airplanes still grounded by airworthiness concerns and others available only for limited duty. On Monday, the National Interagency Fire Center announced that it has approved 10 tankers for service -- seven P-3 Orions, a DC-7 and two P-2Vs -- but will monitor them closely for signs of fatigue. California's fleet of 23 medium, fast-attack tankers could be partially grounded due to $7 million in state budget cuts. It's been proposed that the tankers will have to be grounded one day per week because there is no money to pay the crews. The situation is exacerbated by a lack of military surplus aircraft due to demands of national security.