But the company says the U.S. Forest
Service is seeking to keep the plane grounded by offering a contract
limiting firefighting aircraft to 5,000 gallons (18,900 liters) of fire
suppressant and won't say why. The company says the federal agency is
putting homes and lives at risk just as the current wildfire season
surges past the 10-year average for land area burned in a decade that
includes some of the most destructive and deadly wildfire seasons on
Late last month, the
company filed a protest with the Forest Service contesting the size
limit that appears to conflict with the Forest Service's 2012 air tanker
modernization strategy report. That document identifies large-capacity
tankers as an important part of the firefighting effort as the agency
tries to pay for fighting fires without using money intended for such
things as improving recreation opportunities for forest visitors.
Service spokesman Mike Ferris said in an email the agency couldn't
comment specifically about the possible 747 contract because of the
firefighter advocacy groups said the agency might be trying to cut
firefighting costs that have been using up big chunks of its budget. The
Forest Service spent $1.6 billion in 2016 fighting wildfires, an amount
second only to the $1.7 billion spent in 2015, according to the
National Interagency Fire Center.
A significant part of the Forest
Service's firefighting cost is buying firefighting material at about $1 a
gallon and paying for the aircraft to drop it. Last year the Forest
Service reported dropping more than 19 million gallons (72 million
liters) on national forest system lands, mainly in Western U.S. states.
747 can drop its entire load of 19,200 gallons (72,700 liters) in a
line that's from three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) to 2 miles
(3.2 kilometers) long and more than 200 feet wide. But it can also make
eight separate drops from one load.