Forest Service faces another air tanker shortage this fire season

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- In some places, like Colorado, it's already fire season and the West is preparing for the worst.

But as the risk of wildfire has increased over recent years, the number of available air tankers has dropped.

A decade ago, according to the Associated Press, the United States Forest Service had more than 40 big air tankers, a number that hit a low of eight at one point last year as the fleet depleted from age and safety concerns.

This season the Forest Service has ten tankers at the ready.

But the president of a private air carrier company that contracts out giant Dc-10s says his company could provide more planes for first strike fire suppression but the Forest Service doesn't have the funds.

"We are frustrated quite often by the inability of the Forest Service to get the funding to avail themselves of assets that are currently available from us," said Rick Hatton, with the New Mexico-based 10 Tanker Air Carrier

The Forest Service is working to modernize its aging air fleet. Last year, the agency contracted for seven newer tankers, but only two are now ready for action.

Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado called the delay unacceptable and wants military C-130 fire suppression aircraft placed on high alert this season.

Contract disputes have side-lined two other big tankers.

There's no dispute this could be an extreme fire season and the Forest Service says it has more than 10,000 firefighters plus engines, helicopters, and yes...air tankers...all up to the task.