Former Redding, Chico Airtanker Firm Loses U.S. Forest Service Contract

Aero Union Tanker 22 dropping retardant in Malibu (Photo

The U.S. Forest Service has terminated its contract with Redding-founded Aero Union of Sacramento, which provided six airtankers for fire control, but a forest service official said the agency still has adequate aircraft for this wildfire season.

The contract was terminated because the company failed to meet its contractual obligations for safety, Tom Harbour, director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program, said Friday.

“Our main priority is protecting and saving lives, and we can’t in good conscience maintain an aviation contract where we feel lives may be put at risk due to inadequate safety practices,” Harbour said. “This contract termination notwithstanding, we possess the aircraft support needed for this year’s fire season.”

Originally founded in Redding in 1960, Aero Union modified former military aircraft for aerial firefighting out of the Chico Airport from 1964 until their 2010 move to McClellan Airfield in Sacramento.

The company was providing six airtankers under exclusive-use contracts to the Forest Service. Forest Service spokeswoman Karyn Wood said the agency plans to move six aircraft from Alaska to the lower 48 and will seek a new contract in August to replace Aero Union, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The Forest Service has access to additional aviation assets to meet operational needs. Two other private companies provide 11 large airtankers under exclusive-use contracts. In addition, there are two very large airtankers available through a “call when needed” contract, as well as eight military firefighting aircraft.

The five-year contract the Forest Service signed with Aero Union in 2008 required participation in a continued airworthiness program, which included a Fatigue and Damage Tolerance Evaluation and structural inspection program. In April 2011, Aero Union informed the Forest Service that the Federal Aviation Administration found the company was not in compliance with its mandated structural inspection program requirements.

-from staff and press release

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Forest Service spokeswoman Karyn Wood said the agency plans to move six aircraft from Alaska to the lower 48 and will seek a new contract in August to replace Aero Union.



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19 Responses

  1. Avatar rmv says:






  2. Avatar Alli says:

    I hope the allegations are true, If not shame on the Forest Service

    • Avatar JeffG says:

      Aero Union CEO says his planes were cleared to fly:

      "Gourley said the FAA in April expressed some concerns about the company's flying certificates, which he equated to a driver's license, so Aero Union voluntarily grounded its fleet while the issue was sorted out. Soon after, the aircraft received permission to fly for the rest of the wildfire season.

      His aircraft were last inspected six weeks ago, he said."

      Not sure how much credibility you want to give the man heading a company involved in the US Forest Service airtanker scandal

      • Avatar Dale says:

        the US Forest Service Airtanker scandal happened years before the current CEO became involved with the company. Before making allegations, you should read the research you yourself provided.

  3. Avatar Kevin says:

    The alligations by the forest service that the aircraft are not airworthy is completely false. Their is no safety issue. Their is a political pissing contest going on at the expense of the general publics safety. The FAA is backing Aero Union 100% on this issue. This country has just lost it's most effective (and Cheapest) large air tanker aircraft their is.

    • Avatar anonymous says:

      You obviously either are Gourley in disguise or have no idea what your talking about.

      • Avatar panhandle says:

        It's true. The people of this country should be concerned. To top it off, a Canadian Co. is providing planes now without the same inspection process the FS is disputing with AU. I guess it's okay for the USFS to outsource and disregard "safety."

  4. Avatar rmv says:


    THEY, have us where THEY want us, arguing with each other!!


    GOD BLESS AMERICA!! (no i don't have the answer, but it is obvious they don't either).

  5. Avatar Bob dulong says:

    The P3 aircraft aero union provides are the best asset the Forrest service has they have an excellent safety record and are the most efficent way to deliver bulk retardant to a fire. Canceling the contract over a "safety issue" that the FAA doesn't agree with is rediculous. Get the AU crews back to work!

  6. Avatar Karen C says:

    Does this mean if we have forest fires here in the north state, they need to come from Sacramento, or will some be based in Redding?

  7. Avatar a life aloft says:

    This is a disgrace. Large of parts of Southern California experience major and multiple fires every single year. I remmeber a few years back that we waiting a week one year for tankers to be brought down from Canada. Meanwhile, several fires were burning at once. The FAA doesn't squirt around. If Aero's tankers were not sound, they would have not been allowed to fly. The fact that the FAA has stated that there is no safety issue with them and that it has all been sorted out, tells me that something else here is going on and that the Forestry Department is using their b.s. reason as a cover for something else. We need to be concerned especially with the recession, about keeping Americans employed. Outsourcing has gotten on my last nerve. I believe Aero has some 80 employees who will now be on the streets looking for work. And I do not believe for one moment that the Forestry Department has enough other tankers in place to handle the catastrophic wildfires that occur every year in multiple locations and in multiple states either. I have lost count on how many times Aero has flown in So. Ca. and saved Malibu, various canyons, cities in the valley and the Inland Empire and all over the area and in several counties down here.

    Just recently, (our lovely Governor, Jerry Moon Beam did this), The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CalFire, recently suffered a $34 million budget cut due to the severe financial crisis affecting the state. Some of the effects of the cuts include:

    730 fewer seasonal firefighters

    Reducing the staffing on engines from four to three

    Cancellation of the exclusive use contract for the DC-10 air tanker

    The CalFire Air Tanker Base at Victorville, the home of the DC-10 air tankers, is being shut down.

    And what is their plan B? Hmmm, they have none. Now they cut off Aero!

    I guess we can just lose more land, more property and more lives now. We still have several months of "fire season" to go here in So. Ca. Good luck.

    Time to start a letter writing campaign to our Senators and Congressmen to get this investigated.

    • Avatar AZ Bluejacket says:

      Life Aloft—The USFS has more stringent rules than the FAA, for one part.

      No flying after twilight. Flight following–check in every 30 minutes.

      Cannot wear multi colored under shorts bla bla bla

      Check out the site Wildfire Today website.

  8. Avatar rmv says:

    AFTER 70 YEARS I HAVE LEARNED (actually before) 🙂

    when it comes to GOVERNMENT (local) (state) (national),

    ALWAYS BE WARY!! It has gotten to the point where WE

    work for them, unlike what is is supposed to be! (NEW SHOPPING

    CENTER for example?) ASK ME and i will be happy to GIVE EXAMPLES!!


  9. Avatar Al Smith says:

    Great Job Britney, You're one shrewd businessman! Happy 50th anniversary Aero Union!

  10. Avatar Former Employee says:

    You all should have seen this coming years ago. When this/these lawyer[s] stepped in [pro liars] and the director of maintenance quit. These b/s'ers gave plenty of time to prepare for the worst.

  11. Avatar s d pickette says:

    Isn't this a crying shame? We could sure use those planes now to fight all the wildfires we have in Texas. 1200+ homes have already been lost. Besides the unemployment situation, we have this problem on our hands. Where are the heads of those running our government? I will let you answer that.

  12. Avatar Private Jet says:

    The company was providing six airtankers under exclusive-use contracts to the Forest Service.
    More info here:

  1. August 14, 2011

    […] here to read the rest of this Enterprise Record story. Click here to read about the U.S. Forest Service's decision to cancel its contract with Aero […]

  2. August 14, 2011

    […] here to read the rest of this Enterprise Record story. Click here to read about the U.S. Forest Service's decision to cancel its contract with Aero […]