Evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft is a crucial component of strategic wildfire management and planning. In this manuscript, we focus on the economics of fire and aviation management within the US Forest Service. Substantial uncertainties challenge comprehensive analysis of airtanker use, prompting calls from federal oversight agencies for improved aerial firefighting data collection and analysis. Here, we explore the availability and sufficiency of agency aviation data to track airtanker use and cost trends, and to categorise airtanker use by mission type and fire size class. Although the primary intended use of the airtanker fleet is for initial attack of wildfires, our results indicate that the use of these aircraft tends to occur for extended attack or large- fire support, with a significant number of flights associated with very large fires greater than 4047 ha (10 000 acres). Our results highlight apparent trends in airtanker use that challenge our ability to evaluate cost-effectiveness of airtankers. Data quality and availability issues limited our analysis, leading to a recommendation for improved data collection on flight objective and drop location. We conclude by offering suggested avenues of future research that may help address informational and analytical shortcomings.