Cantwell Announces $80.3 Million Contract for Spokane-Based Airtankers Needed to Fight Wildfires

Forest Service contract establishes Spokane’s Aero-Flite as market leader in providing critical aerial firefighting tools

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, announced that Aero-Flite, Inc., in Spokane, Washington, will receive an $80.3 million contract from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide aerial wildfire fighting services in the Pacific Northwest and around the country. The one-year contract, which can be extended up to a total of five years, establishes Aero-Flite as a market leader with six airtankers under exclusive-use contracts with the Forest Service, and it will add 10 jobs to the company’s workforce in Spokane. The contract comes from USDA’s Next Generation Large Airtanker Services 3.0 for Nationwide Wildland Fire support program.

“This contract is a big investment in a smarter firefighting strategy that will help protect Washingtonians and their property from increasingly-intense infernos,” Senator Cantwell said. “Our region knows that airtankers are critical firefighting tools, so I’m proud that the Spokane region will be assisting frontline fire teams safely battle blazes and protect local communities. I am pleased the Forest Service has responded to my calls to use more aerial resources and better contracting vehicles in order to save taxpayer dollars and ensure airtankers are available when we need them most.”

Airtankers are critical to suppressing wildfires and can help catch fires before they grow into costly events. They deliver fire retardant that helps reduce the spread and intensity of wildfires, giving firefighters time to strategically deploy resources and better protect themselves and their crews. Senator Cantwell has been a strong proponent of the U.S. Forest Service using aerial firefighting resources and has worked to ensure those resources are available when needed. At a 2018 hearing, she questioned the Forest Service about exclusive-use contracts and pushed the agency to use these contracts to provide more certainty to companies like Aero-Flite that provide critical wildfire fighting capabilities, ensure timely deployments, and save taxpayer dollars.

“We are thrilled to add these two additional RJ85 Large AirTanker exclusive-use contracts, enhancing the USFS' Aerial Firefighting capability,” said Shane Sullivan, General Manager of Washington-based Aero-Flite Aerial Firefighting. “These contracts guarantee Aero-Flite's continued growth in Spokane, Washington, providing local families with direct, long-term employment and offering our suppliers across the US consistent, future support. We are proud of Aero-Flite's relationship with the USFS and look forward to supplying additional aerial support for their fire suppression efforts throughout the lower 48 and Alaska.”

Throughout her time in office, Senator Cantwell has been a congressional leader on wildfire management issues. In December 2019, Cantwell worked to secure a $1.6 billion increase in funding for wildland management, as well as passing her bill to improve firefighter safety by providing new technology to crews around the country into law. Earlier this year, she followed up on that legislation, pressing witnesses at a hearing about preparations for the 2020 wildfire season and rolling out new technologies. In 2018, she secured passage of language to fix the chronic failures in wildfire funding that had long plagued fire-prone communities across the west. She has also repeatedly called on officials to make combating wildfires and protecting firefighters a top priority, including as preparations for the 2020 wildfire season continue amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.