CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The demise of the only company that manufactured a device specially designed to spray fire retardant from the back of US military C-130 cargo planes has some officials worried about the future viability of a program that has helped fight wildfires for 40 years.
The Modular Airborne Firefighting System is a bus-sized device that can be shoved into the belly of a cargo plane and then used to spray retardant, or slurry, at 3,000 gallons in less than 5 seconds.
The $4.9 million device’s only manufacturer, Sacramento, Calif.-based Aero Union, went out of business last August, and no other firm has replaced it. Critical spare parts also are no longer being made.
Aero Union closed after the US Forest Service canceled a contract worth a guaranteed minimum $14.5 million a year for firefighting services by six P-3 Orion air tankers. The Forest Service said Aero Union wasn’t keeping up with inspections for those planes.
Aero Union is contesting the revocation in federal administrative court. Dallas-based Comerica bank foreclosed on Aero Union and offered the MAFFS-related assets at auction last winter. They failed to sell.
The Forest Service has stockpiled enough major parts, and can source and mend other parts to keep the system running, said Scott Fisher, MAFFS coordinator for the Forest Service.
The agency has contracted technicians to maintain the MAFFS.