Federal aerial firefighting: assessing safety and effectiveness
Document Type: Report
Author(s): James E. Hall; James B. Hull; Ken Johnson; Earl H. McKinney; William B. Scott
Publication Year: 2002

Cataloging Information

  • Canada
  • firefighting
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: December 13, 2016
FRAMES Record Number: 19534


In response to the 2002 fire season's fatal aircraft accidents, the USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) jointly established an independent, five-member Blue Ribbon Commission (the panel - Appendix A) to identify essential information for planning a safe and effective future aviation program. On August 15, 2002, the Chief of the Forest Service and Director of the BLM asked the panel to identify weaknesses and fail points in the current aviation program, focusing on safety, operational effectiveness, costs, sustainability, and strategic guidance. Assuming an integrated approach, the agencies tasked the panel to address these five areas as they relate to the operation and supervision of air tankers, lead planes and air supervision modules, helicopters, and air attack platforms (Appendix B). Within a 90-day period, the panel held town hall meetings in Atlanta, Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque, and Sacramento, soliciting comments and ideas from those with an interest in the federal firefighting aviation program. The Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and Canadian and United States air tanker operators, Conair and Aerounion, respectively, also provided special briefings to the panel. Verbal and written remarks were received from aerial firefighting-industry officials, air tanker contractors, aircraft manufacturers, fixed-wing and helicopter pilots, private-sector consultants, and concerned people. In addition, the panel heard commentary from representatives of state and federal agencies responsible for fighting wildland fires. The massive amount of material and brief time for analysis forced the panel to address, for the most part, only major considerations. Possibly the single largest challenge now facing leaders of these federal agencies is to foster cooperation and collaboration among working-level staffs, contractors, and states to raise the standards of aerial wildland firefighting in the United States. This report presents eight key findings, which the panel believes are critical for planning a safe and effective future firefighting aviation program. The panel relied significantly on the knowledge, experience, and judgment of its members to develop its findings, which are strong inferences rather than deduced certainties. The panel's mandate was to identify problems, not advocate solutions or make recommendations.

Online Link(s):
Link to this document (1.2 MB; pdf)
Hall, James E.; Hull, James B.; Johnson, Ken; McKinney, Earl H.; Scott, William B. 2002. Federal aerial firefighting: assessing safety and effectiveness. 48 p.