The Hawaii Mars waterbomber returned to Sproat Lake on Sunday, its crew announcing their arrival with a characteristic fly-by over Port Alberni before landing.
The aircraft had been in Fort McMurray, Alta., fighting fires north of the city since early June.
“We’re back here on stand-by for B.C.,” chief operating officer Jim Messer said. “We’re currently on some ‘green days’; crew catch-up and some minor maintenance.”
The aircraft is under contract by the government of B.C. until the end of August, and will stay in the province as the fire season heats up here unless it is called to go elsewhere.
Messer said Coulson Flying Tankers, which owns the waterbomber and its mate, the Philippine Mars, is open to contracts elsewhere on the continent. While fires are burning in Arizona, New Mexico and California, no one has contacted the company yet.
The Hawaii Mars has already seen more work this year than it did last year, Messer said. The aircraft flew approximately 130 hours in Mexico and is already at about 30 hours thanks to the Fort McMurray mission. Last year on its B.C. contract the Hawaii Mars flew about 50 hours.
Still, it’s not enough hours to warrant putting the Philippine Mars in the water—yet.
“There’s still not a business model,” Messer said. Ideally, Coulson would like to have a permanent contract for one of its aircraft, much as it had in California a couple of years ago. Then the Philippine Mars would take over as the “call when needed” waterbomber.
Although the Philippine Mars is up on land, “It can be made viable quickly,” Messer said.
“But we haven’t had that opportunity yet.”