Update: Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations public affairs officer Greig Bethel stated that:
“Unfortunately, there seems to have been a misunderstanding and Minister Thomson will clarify with the mayor. The ministry has now added the Martin Mars to the master standing offer it has with Coulson Group. The earliest the Martin Mars could be used is Thursday. The decision on whether to use the Mars will be made on operational needs by wildfire professionals.”
The original story is below.
The Hawaii Mars could receive flight orders as early as later today (July 7), Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan said following a conversation with the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson.
“He said it would happen hopefully today and that the Martin Mars would be available to fight the Dog Mountain fire first and then available to the rest of Vancouver Island after that,” said Ruttan. “We’re still waiting for confirmation.”
Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson told the News he hadn’t heard confirmation yet.
“We haven’t heard anything from government today (July 7),” said Coulson. “We’ve been trying to get a conference call today to really understand what they want to do with it. As you can imagine, it’s highly politically charged and maybe they haven’t exactly decided.”
However, the Hawaii Mars has been added onto the standing offer contract with the B.C. government.
“What we have is called a standing offer for our helicopters. We have them with every province across Canada and every state in the U.S.,” said Coulson. “We have contracts so if some state or province gets a fire we phone them up and say ‘okay, do you need some help?’
If the Coulson’s fire fighting fleet is needed, then having contracts signed allows them to get into the air and on the scene faster.
“The contract’s already signed and all they do is issue a work order. There’s minimal paperwork, they can just order the resource and off they go.”
While Coulson said he’ll talk to B.C. first, if the Mars isn’t needed here then it will go elsewhere.
“Maybe Alberta, they’ve shown interest in it. Maybe Saskatchewan. Then we’ll decide if we want to deploy it to another province if B.C. doesn’t need the aircraft,” said Coulson. “That’s our choice… we could put it somewhere else.”
While Coulson hasn’t received marching orders for the Mars yet, he said that if it is utilized by the B.C. government it will likely fly in the same areas it has historically.
“I think it would be pretty much its old stomping grounds… Sechelt, Powell River, Nanaimo, Port Hardy. That’s where it’s traditionally has been operated.”
The Mars was lowered into the water around 10 a.m. on July 7, just one day earlier than planned for the Chinese government test pilots coming in to train on it. Flight tests will begin tomorrow and the Mars should be fully operational by Thursday.
“We’ll probably be starting to run the airplane tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “What we do is we test the systems. We have to do all our safety procedures for emergency. That takes several hours where we go up and we take off and land on three engines or we’ll land on two engines. Just practicing with the airplane.”
The Hawaii Mars’ firefighting capabilities will also be tested.
“We’ll do some scoops and drops on our own to make sure that the whole system’s working.”
A request for comment from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operation has not yet been returned.