New airtanker base will serve 600-mile radius, protecting multiple states
By Laura McConnell, Fire and Aviation communication specialist
COLORADO—A new airtanker base, ramp area and seven reload pits are taking shape in Colorado Springs. The base will operate six reload pits for large airtankers and one reload pit dedicated to very large airtankers. Fifteen states, in four Forest Service regions, will be within the 600-mile service area. The new ramp has been completed and the framework for the building for the permanent base is in place. This new facility is expected to be operational for the 2022 fire year. The completed project includes the construction of an operation building, storage facility and retardant mixing plant, operated by the Forest Service, and an eight-acre, multi-use ramp, owned and maintained by the Colorado Springs airport. This facility is being designed to handle airtankers of all sizes and capabilities currently contracted with the Forest Service, as well as VLATs of any size that may be contracted in the future.
Being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities will reduce the total number of flights needed to support wildfire operations as well as reduce the risk to additional flight crews and other regions. The base will increase the amount and efficiency of retardant being sent to a wildfire. During the winter months, the Colorado Springs Airport will use the eight-acre multi-use ramp as a de-icing pad for commercial aircraft and allow the Forest Service to use the ramp during high fire activity as a retardant reload base for heavy airtankers.
Congress awarded the Forest Service funding for the project as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Bill that repurposed previous allocations to the USDA Forest Service Aviation Safety and Modernization Strategy. This project represents nearly a quarter of the total $37.2 million Aviation Safety Modernization Projects budget and is among the largest investments to be implemented on the ground from the 2018 Omnibus Act. The City of Colorado Springs is providing additional funding. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for the spring of 2022.