Gov’t tries jets over prop planes for aerial firefighting

The Coulson Group’s C-130s will not be a part of the B.C government’s forest firefighting force this summer—not even on a pilot basis.

A Coulson Aviation C-130 at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport this summer.

The Coulson Group’s C-130s will not be a part of the B.C government’s forest firefighting force this summer—not even on a pilot basis.

Instead, the province will be testing Conair Group’s Avro RJ85 airtanker.

“The C-130 is a prop aircraft, which is the same technology as the current fleet uses, whereas B.C. Wildfire Service is looking to test the cost-effectiveness of a jet aircraft this summer,” Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations public affairs officer Greig Bethel wrote in an e-mail.

The next-generation RJ85 will supplement B.C. forest service’s current fleet of air-tankers on a pilot basis this summer.

“The addition of the aircraft ahead of the 2016 wildfire season will allow the BC Wildfire Service to evaluate its cost and effectiveness and help inform future procurement decisions,” a government press release noted.

Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson said that he did not receive a reason as to why the province turned down his C-130s despite their higher tank capacity.

“I have no idea why the province went with Conair,” Coulson said.

“The government dances to their own drum.”

Coulson added that there was no tender process for the awarding of the contract.

“It is unusual in the firefighting world to award a contract to a company without a tender process,” he said.

The MoF did not reply to questions about the lack of tender process.

The province’s contracted fleet for the 2016 fire season consists of 33 aircraft including one light-duty helicopter, five medium-duty helicopter, eight bird dog helicopters, 12 airtankers and two para-attack jump ships. The contract is split between Conair Group Inc., Air Spray (1967) Ltd., Ascent Helicopters Ltd., Wildcat Helicopters, Interior Helicopters (Jetcom Ventures Inc.), and Kenn Borek Air Ltd.

Bethel added that the province can bring in additional contracted aircraft as needed, noting that in July 2015, more than 100 helicopters were being used to fight fires throughout B.C.

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