As we see priceless works of art at the Getty Center in LA endangered by a fire just across the freeway and thousands of people displaced by wildfires, the need for increased aerial firefighting support is quite clear.
The technology is available. The CL-415 built by Viking in Vancouver BC was initially a Bombardier design purpose-built for firefighting. Viking Air in Sydney BC is considering restarting the production of the CL-415. This “super-scooper” can land on a lake or river and scoop up a full load to be back fighting fires much more quickly than other tankers, which need to land and be refilled from water systems.
Just as we had flights of bombers in World War II, imaging 12 or 24 of these water bombers, flying in formation, dousing wildfires just after they begin and before they become massive conflagrations. Is it possible? Yes. Does it make sense? Yes. Will it happen? Not without government getting out of the way.
The government can’t fund aircraft purchases, and can’t enter into leases longer than a year under current fiscal regulations. The CONOPS, to rewater at an airport is antiquated. You need persistent delivery with minimum time between refilling airplanes and only the CL-415 and BE-60 can do that.
This is why the US Forest Service fleet is a mishmash of old aircraft that have been converted to firefighting operations. Unfortunately, those aircraft aren’t as reliable nor as effective as new aircraft that are purposely designed for that purpose. (The 747 Supertanker is an exception)
Major players in the insurance industry claim to be expert at risk management. If they truly were, however, they would create a joint venture to quickly handle wildfires and avoid multi-billion losses. Every year, we see massive fires in the Western US, and similarly, as the seasons change, massive wildfires in Australia. The cost of a fleet of CL415s, strategically placed to hit wildfires as soon as they emerge, would be much less than the cost of paying insurance claims when homes are lost and the lives of people negatively impacted.
The Bottom Line:
There is a solution. Have the insurance industry privately fund a fleet of aircraft that can be dispatched to knock down major fires before they become disasters. Looking at the cash flows, it would be cheaper than paying massive claims. As the old adage states, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure“. Early action is essential in knocking down fires, and clearly, the current practices are not working. Whatever happened to common sense?