Above: Neptune BAe 146 Airtanker fighting the Gibraltar fire, Santa Barbara (photo Mike Eliason)
08 March, 2016
BAE Systems Air Prestwick is marking its commitment to the aerial firefighting community in North America and building on the success of its BAe 146/Avro RJ regional jets that form the bulk of the next-generation Airtanker firefighting fleet, by taking a prominent role at this year’s Aerial Firefighting International Conference and Exhibition.
BAE Systems is co-located on a booth with Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Montana and Air Spray of Chico, California – two of the three Airtanker operators/converters who have chosen the BAe 146/Avro RJ. The third customer for the British jet is Conair Aerial Firefighting of Abbotsford, Canada and its US affiliate operator, Aero Flite of Spokane, Washington, who are on an adjacent booth.
Between them these four operators have a current total of 19 of the four-engine jets either in service or in conversion – Conair/Aero Flite has seven Avro RJ85s, Neptune has seven BAe 146-200s and Air Spray has five BAe 146-200s.
The BAe 146/Avro RJ is one of the ‘Next-gen’ Airtankers that are replacing previous early generation vintage aircraft in this demanding role. They have to fly faster, be turbine- or jet-powered, and as Type 1 Airtankers, have a capacity of at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.
As the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for the BAe 146/Avro RJ BAE Systems Air Prestwick has collaborated with all these Airtanker operators and converters in various ways to provide specialist technical design and engineering support – a vital and continuing service to support these demanding applications. Full 24/7 spares support is also available.
Apart from this aerial firefighting role, the BAe 146/Avro RJ has seen service in a variety of other special mission applications including as an airborne scientific platform, and military uses such a flexible passenger/freighter and for test pilot training. The exceptional versatility and utility of the aircraft means that it could be ideally suited to a range of other missions and BAE Systems Air Prestwick has the design/engineering skills to carry out the necessary modifications and conversions.
Above: Neptune BAe 146 Airtanker paralleling an F15 Strike Eagle on approach to Boise Idaho (photo Colin Moeser)
Now proven in fire-fighting service, the BAe 146/Avro RJ represents nearly half of the Airtankers earmarked under ‘Exclusive Use’ multi-year contracts awarded by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to operators. Neptune has five BAe 146s under such contract and Conair/Aero Flite has four Avro RJs – a total of nine aircraft out of 21 that are earmarked for ‘Exclusive Use’.
The USFS has also awarded six-year ‘Call When Needed’(CWN) contracts covering 22 aircraft, sixteen of which are BAe 146/Avro RJs – six from Conair/Aero Flite; six from Neptune and four from Air Spray. However, many of the Airtankers currently on Exclusive Use contracts are also listed on the CWN contracts, so there is some duplication.
A further contract gained by Neptune for a sixth BAe 146 Airtanker was under an Exclusive Use contract with the State of California, a first for Neptune and the first time California had contracted for a large, next generation Airtanker. Neptune returned to the State of Alaska with a BAe 146 after a 14-year hiatus, and in another company first, Neptune flew a BAe 146 on fires raging in Alberta, Canada. By the end of the 2015 fire season, Neptune’s BAe 146 fleet had flown 1269 missions, dispensing over 3,715,000 gallons of retardant.
With the 2016 fire season already under way, Neptune again brings six BAe 146s to the table, continuing their contractual obligations with CALFIRE and the USFS.
Going forward, Neptune states it will continue to pursue opportunities to convert and utilise additional BAe 146 aircraft.
Above: The first Air Spray BAe 146-200 Airtanker under conversion at the Air Spray facility in Chico, California (photo courtesy of Air Spray)
The conversion of the first Air Spray BAe 146 Airtanker is making steady progress at Chico with the Air Spray iRADS internal aircraft tank now being manufactured. The expectation is that tank system water testing and calibration will be carried out in mid-summer and test flights and FAA certification to follow. Parts for the second aircraft tank are also being manufactured.
Conair Aerial Firefighting had five Avro RJ85 Airtankers in service during the very busy 2015 fire season, and has a further two aircraft in conversion to be ready for the 2016 fire season. The Government of British Columbia has announced a contract with Conair for one RJ85 for the 2016 fire season.
Above: Conair RJ85 Airtanker on deployment in Australia
Another Conair RJ85 Airtanker was contracted by the State of Victoria in Australia for the second year running to fight wildfires in the State and further afield and was operated with the assistance of Conair’s Australian partner, Field Air. Based at Avalon 45 minutes west of Melbourne, Tanker 162 carried out 55 missions for the season delivering over 600,000 litres of retardant across all corners of Victoria and also on an interstate deployment to Tasmania.
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