Friday, January 24, 2020

City, feds team up on air tanker base at COS airport

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2020 at 5:23 PM

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the city of Colorado Springs announced on Jan. 24 they would team up to build a permanent air tanker base at Colorado Springs Airport to fight fires in the Rocky Mountain Region and the West.

Mayor John Suthers hailed the announcement, noting increasing forest fire activity.

“We want to do everything we can to protect our beautiful state and our residents," Suthers said in a release. "As wildland firefighting continues to be a priority for western states, we continue to embrace our leadership role and we look forward to completion of this vital asset."

The project, the base and a ramp will cost $20 million and be shared by the airport and the USDA. The USDA has budgeted $37 million for Aviation Safety Modernization Projects.

From the release:
The one-and-a-half-acre base will initially house six reload pits for any type of contracted airtanker, including Very Large Airtankers that can hold more than 5,000 gallons of retardant—making it the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius. The base will support even the largest airtankers and will allow multiple airtankers to reload at once. This will allow an increased amount of retardant to be sent to a wildfire faster and with greater efficiency. It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions.
Not connected with that announcement but worth noting is that the so-called "supertanker" that carries 19,200 gallons of water or retardant also is based in Colorado Springs. It recently was called upon to assist in battling fires in the Amazon.

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” the USDA's Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien said in the release. “I am excited to see it unfold and to see what it will mean for supporting communities during peak fire year activity.”

The tanker base will serve a 600-mile radius, which includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will also provide support to southern Montana, southeastern Idaho, eastern Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, western Iowa and western Missouri.

The release also noted the eight-acre ramp will be located near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. During the winter months, when the Forest Service is not using the ramp, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft. Groundbreaking is slated for spring, and the project is expected to be completed in 2021.

Of course, hosting an air tanker base doesn't guarantee that air tankers will be on-hand when they're needed. During the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, the Forest Service had only nine tankers under contract, compared to 44 a decade earlier.

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