The Forest Service can deploy only three out of seven new tankers to replace Korean War vintage aircraft as the summer fire season heats up, due to a contract protest.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, told a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday that he wants to cut through the legal process to get the entire fleet in the air as soon as possible. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., joined him in pushing for a quick resolution.
Last month Udall urged the Forest Service to override the protest. “Lives and homes are at stake, and I refuse to stand idly by as red tape suffocates any chance of the U.S. Forest Service finally acquiring these much-needed air tankers,” he said. Udall added that residents of fire-prone areas should not be held hostage to “contractors’ squabbles.”
The Forest Service on May 6 awarded seven companies five-year contracts valued at a total of $159.4 million to supply it with Next Generation Airtankers. Neptune Aviation Services Inc. of Missoula, Mont., on May 16 filed a Government Accountability Office protest of the airtanker contract award, with a decision not due until Aug. 26, the tail-end of the fire season.