Forest Service Grounds Tankers
The U.S. Forest Service is taking action after an expert panel declared the aerial firefighting program as unsafe. The panel's report was prompted by two air-tanker crashes and one helicopter crash this past summer. The expert group, led by former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Jim Hall and Texas state forester Jim Hull, faulted the FAA for leaving the certification and inspection of the aircraft -- many of which are modified World War II military tankers -- to the private contractors operating the aircraft. In response, the Forest Service has grounded all C-130A and PB4Y-2 models used under contract with private companies -- the aircraft deliver about 10 percent of the water and foam dropped on wildfires. Nineteen government-owned P-58 lead planes and four Sherpa smokejumper aircraft are also grounded pending evaluation. Before they are returned to fire duty, the other 33 air tankers must pass a rigorous inspection and follow a new maintenance program enacted by the Forest Service. The agency is working on contingency plans.