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Senator Udall Reacts To Aging Air Tanker Fleet

CreativeCommons/Senator Mark Udall
Senator Mark Udall tours an area burned by the Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County.

Colorado Senator Mark Udall delivered a letter to the US Forest Service Chief Thursday expressing his concerns about whether the agency’s aging air tanker fleet is capable of keeping the state safe during a potentially dangerous fire season. The Senator is unconvinced the current fleet is adequate.

There are only 11 heavy air tankers fighting wildfires across the country today, and many of them have been flying since the 1950’s. On the heels of a KUNC report highlighting the aging fleet, Senator Udall’s letter to Chief Tom Tidwell says although air tankers are only one part of the firefighting effort, they play a critical role in an initial attack.

“When you go to fight fire, it’s like going to war.  You need to have airplanes, helicopters, and firefighters which are the equivalent to the soldiers on the ground.  And if we’re missing some of the equipment and some of the assets we need to fight fires, it could be a very tough year for us.”

The US Forest Service has announced plans to increase the number of air tankers with newer more efficient jet powered planes. However, that process continues to be delayed due to contract negotiations. Senator Udall says he hopes to work with the agency to address this growing issue.

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