From the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, “Russia” / “Ukraine” et al) aviation industries, the Beriev Be-200, Antonov AN-32P (fixed wing) or Kamov Ka-32BC-100, and Mi-26T (rotor wing) represent the best and most current options for airborne fire mitigation. These aircraft can be operated reliably within the scope of their designed lifetime within factory recommended maintenance and operations programs.
Enter the “MAK” a Russian acronym for “International Avation Committee” (“mezhgosdarstvennie aviatzonie komitet” / www.mak.ru) from the CIS. Introducing the existing “CIS” maintenance programs into an integrated system of SAE and Metric “MRO” programs will follow examples already in place in Russia and the UAE at overhaul factories. The processes will have to be codified here by FAA once the programs are introduced by the first American Civil-CIS “heavy” aircraft operators.
Ready, Right Now!
The Beriev Be-200 is a modern twin engine jet amphibian that might gain IAB and FAA (restricted) certifications. When and if this occurs, the stage will be set for several or more American companies seeking to order the Be-200. I have inspected the Be-200 for FAR-25 design and construction compliance, and am certain Beriev can win the technical arguments for FAR-25 certification at any level allowed under the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (AC 21-23B). For aerial firefighting, Commercial Be-200 Operations in USA can occur when and if the federal and state agencies establish a contracting system that will pay for services at market rates.
We’ll also need to see more expedient political and financial support from the Russian Federation for this to occur in time for any future fire seasons. Fortunately, the aircraft can operate across international borders and the Northern / Southern Hemispheres so the “market” is flexible.
In USA, “contracting” policies are the real issue. The USFS abruptly cancelled a contract with Aero Union for no good reason, leading the the bankruptcy or a long-standing U.S. asset. Why? Ask your Congressional Representative.
As a nation, we have to do better! How? Imagine if you will, creating a new contracting system to replace the fire department in your local community. One asks; “Is there a precedent (example)”?
Contracting is outside my expertise. However, I might offer: For structure, the industry and regulators might look at community contracts with EMS (Emergency Medical) service companies rather than fire departments, because other than public fire departments there are only volunteer entities. There are many EMS companies.
In Aerial Fire-Fighting and EMS the costs differ greatly, but factors include standby time, training and expenses, equipment acquisition and maintenance. We have to take a fresh look in order to see a new aerial firefighting industry emerge with modern equipment ready to save American lives and property. Aircraft have been developed. The aerial firefighting companies should be able to bid on very long term contracts to ensure their capability to provide aircraft over time, and have variables at cost-plus rates factored into these contracts.