The government of Florida is debating the budget for a fleet of replacement firefighting aircraft for use by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
The Florida Senate is currently proposing a budget of US$26.5 million for the replacement of elderly four helicopters and one fixed-wing aircraft, which are operated by FDACS sub-agency the Florida Forest Service.
However, the Florida House of Representatives is currently aiming for a far smaller $5.1 million budget for replacements.
The Florida Forest Service’s (FFS) helicopter fleet is dominated by five UH-1H Huey or Super Huey aircraft dating from the 1960s and 1970s. The FFS also operates two Bell OH-58A+ Kiowa light helicopters.
The FFS also operates two seven-seat light twin engine aircraft for firefighter and supervisor transportation and as a coordination platform for large operations, as well as 17 single-engine patrol aircraft to provide aerial fire detection and intelligence to firefighters.
Wildfires are a significant problem in Florida. In 2021, over 8,000 acres were burned, with lightning and human activity being the primary causes of fires. However, recent attempts to modernise the state’s firefighting fleet have been largely confined to upgrades to existing aircraft.
Colorado proposes budget allocation for Firehawk
The Governor of the US state of Colorado, Jared Polis, has reportedly included a proposal for the allocation of $24 million for the purchase of a new Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk, as part of a $78 million budget proposal for wildfire management.
The aircraft will provide firefighting support across the state and will also require an additional $3.8 million in operating costs per year. The aircraft will be fitted with a 3,785-litre water tank and a rescue hoist.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) previously signed a contract in August 2021 with United Rotorcraft, a subdivision of the Air Methods Corporation, for the provision of a Firehawk. The aircraft is scheduled to be taken over by DFPC in late 2022.