Thursday, September 8, 2011



Today from Human Events:
Nearly half of the federal government's firefighting air tankers are sitting idle at a California airport, grounded by the Obama administration in a contract dispute just weeks before wildfires swept through Texas killing a mother and her child, and destroying 100,000 acres.

The massive blazes forced Texas Gov. and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry to abruptly call off a campaign appearance in South Carolina earlier this week to respond to the crisis, and may force him to cancel his first debate appearance tonight.

The U.S. Forest Service terminated the contract with Aero Union five weeks ago to operate seven P-3 Orions that are critical to the agency's firefighting mission, leaving the federal government with 11 tankers under contract to help battle more than 50 large uncontained wildfires now burning nationwide.

"We were certified to fly all season, but they just terminated us and threw 60 people out of work and left the country vulnerable to fires, as you can see right now in Texas ," said Britt Gourley, CEO for Aero Union.

"This is our 50th anniversary fighting fires for the Forest Service. It's not quite the way we wanted to celebrate it," Gourley said.

Gourley said the government did not provide details on why the contract was canceled, but that they did not agree with Aero Union's 15-year maintenance plan.

"We wanted to sit down with them and ask why it was canceled and find a quick resolution, but they didn't want to talk about it. They just said, ‘We don't want the airplanes, have a nice life,'" Gourley said. "I had to let go of my staff–60 people and their families were devastated," Gourley said. "It's really been tragic."

The Forest Service says it will not use aircraft that does not meet its requirements, and in this case that included the long-term airworthiness inspection program, although the company passed its annual inspection.

Despite the contract cancellation, Gourley told HUMAN EVENTS he has reached out to his former employees and that they could have four planes up in 48 hours to fly to Texas' rescue, and assist in other devastating fires burning in California.

"First and foremost, we are firefighters at Aero Union, and we do not want to sit idle while the people of Texas and California suffer," Gourley said in a letter Tuesday.

"We feel strongly that a contract disagreement unrelated to the safety of our fleet to fight fires should not stand in the way of our mission at a time when these aircraft are most needed. The tragic scenes in Texas and California make any contract issues appear very secondary," Gourley said.

Audrey Hudson      

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