United States Department of Agriculture
Forest Service
Aviation Safety Alert
NO. 2003-05 Page 1 of 1


AREA OF CONCERN: Fire and Aviation Operations

DISCUSSION: Followi ng the disastrous airtanker accidents that occurred during the 2002
season, a Blue Ribbon Panel was convened to assess the health and safety of the Federal
wildland fire aviation programs. The Departments of Interior and Agriculture are taking the
initiative to mitigate the sources of high risks in aircraft and operations. However, these
measures will have some short-term effects on aircraft availability and place new limitations on
certain operations that are worthy of notice. Thus the subject of this alert is to make you aware of
the potential impacts on ground firefighting efforts.

AIRTANKERS: 11 large airtankers have been permanently grounded and will not be replaced
during the 2003 season. The remaining 33 tankers are undergoing extensive inspection and
repair to prevent the structural problems that have occurred in the aging fleet. There is not as yet
a good indication when the fleet will be returned to service in its entirety. The expectation is that
tankers will be late in returning to service as they complete the process one at a time. This
means firefighters may have difficulty acquiring retardant support until well into the summer

LEADPLANES: Approximately half of the Federal leadplane fleet may be affected by a decision
to retire USFS Barons due to aging airframes and lifetime limits. Replacement aircraft are being
sought and once again are expected to be somewhat later in arriving than the normal start-up
period. Early season tactical air coordination may therefore by necessity be provided through
other resources such as ASM and ATGS platforms.

EMPHASIS ON INITIAL ATTACK: Within the Federal Agencies, in order to make the most of
limited resources, emphasis is being placed on initial attack in order to minimize acreage lost.
Limited availability of leadplanes and airtankers dictates that they will be reserved for initial attack
and likely will not be assigned to large fire scenarios. The National MAC Group will provide
updates on the status and availability of limited aerial resources as the season progresses.

RECOMMEND: FMO’s, Incident Commanders and Ops Section Chiefs should advise firefighters
that aerial delivery of retardant may not be as available to them as in the past and to adjust
ground tactics accordingly. Operational risk management procedures should take into account
added safety measures to account for the possibility of reduced aerial support.

/s/ Ron Hanks
National Aviation Safety and Training Manager