For two MD-87s at Madras airport

by: PHOTO BY GLEN NEWTON - Two of Erickson Aero Tanker's MD-87s have already been painted with the company logo. The aircraft, still located in Goodyear, Ariz., will eventually be moved to Madras.As anticipated, Erickson Aero Air, which owns the Aero Tanker operation at the Madras Municipal Airport, will be awarded a U.S. Forest Service contract for "next generation" airtankers for wildfire suppression.

The USFS announced May 6 that Aero Air will be one of five companies — all in the Western United States — to receive contracts for the airtankers.

"We are moving ahead to modernize our fleet as part of our overall strategy to secure the best, safest airtankers available for fighting wildfires across the country in the years to come," said USFS Chief Tom Tidwell, who announced that the Forest Service has issued a notice of intent to award contracts for seven airtankers. "It is critical that we complete the next generation airtanker contracting effort as quickly as possible as we face the prospect of another challenging wildfire season with a dwindling legacy airtanker fleet."

Originally announced in June 2012, the USFS contract awards were challenged, and the awards were withdrawn. Companies were allowed to submit revised proposals.

Glen Newton, airtanker operations manager at Aero Tanker in Madras, said that the company submitted bids for three items, "but really only expected to get two."

Aero Air won the bid for two line items — two MD-87s, formerly single-aisle passenger jets that Aero Air is converting to airtankers for firefighting.

"The government has the option to add up to four additional contracts per line item, which means we could get up to 10 aircraft on contract," he said.

Aero Air, which purchased the Butler Aircraft firefighting operation at the Madras airport in October 2012, has also purchased a total of seven MD-87s, which will all be converted to next generation firefighting aircraft.

According to Newton, there are two currently located in Madras that arrived from Spain, and another expected in the next week, all of which have yet to be converted to airtankers.

"We have two aircraft at Goodyear, Ariz., being converted now, and the prototype is finishing its modification in Hillsboro," he said. The two in Arizona are the only ones that have been painted with the new logo.

One of the two MD-87s at the headquarters in Hillsboro has been converted, but neither has been painted. "We are scheduled to have three aircraft ready mid-summer," said Newton.

The airtankers must be turbine-powered, able to carry a minimum of 3,000 gallons of retardant, and have a cruise speed of at least 300 knots (over 345 mph) when fully loaded.

The company also acquired Butler Aircraft's three DC-7s, which are under contract with the State Department of Forestry.

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