When Minden Air contacted BAE Systems’ regional aircraft division to ask about leasing a 146 jetliner to use as a water-bomber, it came as something of a surprise to director Mark Taylor. “When they explained the characteristics they were looking for, we began to see its potential,” he told Aviation International News.
“It’s a sturdy airframe, used to operating in a harsh environment. Four engines give it good range, and it has excellent short-field performance and low-speed handling qualities. Its 3,000-gallon payload also puts it in the Class 1 tanker class, which gives it greater operational scope and means better remuneration for the operator–the more material that can be put on a fire, the higher the rate.”
Minden, run by Len and Janet Parker, started the first 146 firefighter conversion in February; it is due to be completed later this year. Then role assessment flights will prepare it for firefighting by the start of the 2006 season. The company did not disclose the terms of the lease, but the U.S. Forest Service typically awards three- to five-year contracts.
Taylor confirmed interest in Australia and Chile. “We were too late for some contracts in the Mediterranean but we will see if we can offer it as a replacement,” he said.