WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon-based air tanker company Erickson Aero Tanker has won a major federal firefighting contract, the two U.S. Senators from Oregon announced on Tuesday.
The $70.5 million contract is for next-generation large air tanker services, supporting wildland firefighting both within Oregon and throughout the nation, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said in a joint statement.
“The blazes that devastated so much of Oregon this year unfortunately provide the latest example of the urgent need to build a comprehensive arsenal of tools to fight wildfires in our state and the entire country,” Sen. Wyden said. “Air tankers are an essential piece of that arsenal and I’m glad Erickson Aero Tanker has earned this contract that will help keep Oregon communities safe while also generating good jobs in Washington County.”
Erickson Aero Tanker is headquartered in Hillsboro — a cousin of sorts to the Central Point-based Erickson Air Crane, thanks to founder Jack Erickson, but a separate company — and owned by aviation firm Aero Air LLC.
“I drove hundreds of miles across Oregon as this year’s unprecedented wildfires raged, and I saw unfathomable destruction and hazardous smoke at every turn,” said Sen. Merkley. “This year was a devastating reminder of just how important it is that we have every possible tool — including airtankers — at the ready to keep our communities safe from future blazes. I’m pleased that this funding is headed to our state, and I’m going to keep doing everything I can to make sure we’re not only prepared, but taking urgently needed steps to reduce the risk of more catastrophic wildfires.”
Merkley sits as the top Democrat on the the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that includes the U.S. Forest Service. USDA plans to use the air tankers to provide "modern aerial firefighting support," delivering retardant to fires for the Forest Service.
“We are very pleased that the USFS has selected two of our MD-87 fire bombers under the NextGen 3.0 contract for large airtankers,” said Erickson Aero Tanker general manager Matt Isley. “With this contract, Erickson Aero Tanker will have four MD-87s under exclusive use contracts with two more available for call-when-needed emergency use. This fire season, our tankers — including our DC-7 tanker in Oregon — have dropped over 6.5 million gallons of water or retardant on fires in 13 states."