In recent years, plane crashes have posed a major threat to the safety of wildland firefighters. This year alone, two crashes claimed the lives of six wildland firefighters.
On Nov. 30, the U.S. Senate addressed this important issue by unanimously accepting an amendment from Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (S. 3254). This amendment will authorize transferring 12 excess planes from the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Senator McCain's amendment will allow the USFS to vastly modernize its fleet of aircraft and its need to rely heavily on private contractors. These relatively young aircraft from the USAF will provide a versatile platform for the USFS to complete a variety of missions, such as air-tanker operations, personnel transportation and smokejumper missions.
Though the USFS may not receive enough planes to completely transform its fleet, Senator McCain's amendment likely sets a strong precedent for transferring future excess planes from the Department of Defense to the USFS.
While S. 3254 has passed the Senate, the process of transferring the planes to the USFS can only begin once the bill, with Senator McCain's amendment, has been formally passed by both the House and the Senate. Additionally, the transfer of aircraft must be approved by the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. If passed and subsequently approved, all transfers must be completed by Dec. 31, 2013, and will be funded by the USFS.
The IAFC Government Relations department will continue to monitor the status of S. 3254 and any subsequent aircraft transfers from the USAF to the USFS.