Thursday, March 05, 2015

Neptune Aviation prepares for fire season, charter expansion (with video)

MISSOULA, Mont. -  Thursday Neptune Aviation had its first air tanker go under contract with the Forest Service. It means it is officially fire season now for Neptune Aviation.

Crews are working diligently to get planes ready for fire season. Preparation on the planes can take anywhere from six to eight weeks.

"We fabricate the actual tanking system and do the insulation in the aircraft and then it's ready to go out as an aerial firefighting aircraft," said Neptune Aviation CEO Ron Hooper.

Installing the tank isn't the only thing the crew does. The tank takes up about 60 percent of the aircraft. First crews have to gut out the interior and take out anything that's not essential for firefighting, like the seats. The main goal is to get the weight off the plane so it can hold the tank.

"The tank is about 5,000 pounds and then we carry about 30,000 pounds of retardant in that tank so the tank and retardant is about 35,000 pounds," said Hooper.

The maximum weight the planes can hold is around 85,000 to 90,000 pounds.

Neptune currently has seven airplanes on contract, six are P2Vs and one is a BAe 146. Once the planes are under contract, they are at the disposal of the Fire Service. Neptune doesn't control where the aircraft go or what fires they are assigned to.

Neptune provides the pilot, co-pilot and mechanics but the planes need to be in tip top shape before takeoff.

"We try to accomplish our maintenance from November through March, April, usually," said Hooper.

Throughout those months, the crew has prepared 12 aircraft that are tanked and ready for this year's fire season.

Neptune is also preparing for their charter service expansion, which kicks off in August.

Right now, they are figuring out the logistics, which include working with businesses and finding out what works best for them for schedule, destination and days of the week. They are researching to finalize the best service schedule for everyone.

Starting in August, Neptune Aviation will have three aircraft on scheduled flight times for routes between Billings and Missoula.

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