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 aNewsCafe.com staff and press release
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