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GB Aerial operates single-engine air tankers via firefighting contracts throughout the United States. Presently, we are on an exclusive-use contract with the Bureau of Land Management in Miles City.

We offer an alternative solution to the expanded outsourcing of American firefighting jobs to Canada (Sept. 6 Gazette). If single-engine Type III air tankers were utilized to their full potential, there would be no need for Canadian Convairs and their support bird-dog (lead) aircraft.

Eight American single engine air tankers (SEATs) can haul the same amount of retardant to a fire as three Canadian Convairs. The combined daily availability cost is about one half of the Canadian aircraft, especially considering the cost of operating a permanent heavy tanker base which the SEATs do not need. At the time that the Canadian Convairs were put on contract in Montana, there were many SEATs available and ready to go with national on-call contracts.

Another advantage to SEATs is that they can be strategically located around the state at small airports such as Big Timber, Livingston, Jordan, Lewistown, Broadus, Miles City, etc. Each SEAT has its own mobile retardant mixing trailer and ground crew. This distribution of resources and mobility allows for a quicker reaction to small fires, which helps keep fires small, manageable and less expensive to contain. If fires get larger, additional SEATs could be dispatched from the other remote bases around the state. The result is that retardant is delivered quicker and more accurately to the fire since SEATs offer a more precise close air support service for ground resources.

SEAT pilots are highly trained and initial-attack qualified and do not need to wait on overhead aerial supervision or lead aircraft such as the bird dogs. SEAT turnaround time is less than 10 minutes at the airport, and GB Aerial SEATs are carded for hot fueling, which also saves time.

The combined result is a more responsive, efficient and cost-effective aerial attack on fires. A side benefit to this diversity is the shared economical benefit to smaller towns and airports around the state. In addition, American tax money stays in America.

The expanded use of Canadian resources results in a devastating financial impact to American vendors. For every Type II Convair that is put on contract in the United States (without even having to go through the bidding process) three Type III American SEATs with crews are underutilized. This trend is apparent in other states as well as Montana. Last year, 13 SEATs were demobilized in Texas while several Candian Convairs were kept on contract for over a month at an expensive temporary tanker base in Austin.

NAFTA is great for the country if trade flows both ways. Unfortunately, even though I am Department of Interior carded in land and amphibious single-engine air tankers, I could not get a job servicing port-a-potties at a Canadian tanker base. Canadians protect their industries, and so should our American leaders. If American solutions to American problems are available for less cost to taxpayers, why outsource?

Jim Watson is a Texas-based pilot for GB Aerial Inc. of Plains, Texas. He is working in Miles City.

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