Super Tanker Grounded By Contract Dispute


The Global Super Tanker, a converted 747 designed to fight wildfires, has been grounded in California even as fires rage, and its operators say it’s because of “red tape” imposed by the U.S. Forest Service. “We just happen to be the biggest, fastest fire truck in the air,” said Jim Wheeler, CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, which owns and operates the airplane. But the company said in a news release on Friday the U.S. Forest Service said its contract limits firefighting aircraft to 5,000 gallons of fire suppressant. The 747 carries up to 19,000 gallons. Wheeler says he protested the contract and asked for an explanation for the rule. An agency spokesman said in an email the agency couldn’t comment, because of the company’s protest. “Why is the United States Forest Service keeping [the 747] grounded?” asked Global SuperTanker in their news release. They haven’t gotten an answer.

The Associated Press looked into the dispute in a story published on Saturday, but didn’t find much clarity — the Forest Service declined to comment, repeating that it couldn’t because of the company’s protest. The airplane was certified by the FAA last September, and has been used to fight fires in Chile and Israel. “The frustration factor is exceptionally high,” Wheeler told CBS News. “It’s very hard to watch property burn and lives lost, and we can’t get in and help.” The airplane’s firefighting advantage is not just the size of the tank, says CBS, but the new technology used — a pressurized system atomizes the water as it’s released, rather than just dumping it, like a bucket. “It doesn’t break down tree limbs, it won’t crush cars or buildings,” Wheeler told CBS.