A bill signed by President Barack Obama Wednesday will speed efforts to update the nation's aging airtanker fleet used to fight wildfires.
The bill cleared the House and Senate this week. It expedites the Forest Service contracting process that had already been under way.
"This is a major milestone in our efforts to modernize the large airtanker fleet, which plays a vital role in wildfire suppression," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "As we mourn the recent loss of two airtanker pilots, we must continue to meet our responsibility to be prepared to respond vigorously to wildfires threatening lives, communities and cultural and natural resources."
In the past eight years, the fleet has dwindled significantly from 44 large airtankers in 2004 to 11 currently. According to the Forest Service, the severe loss of aircraft was due to the inability of the planes to meet the stringent safety requirements.
The new generation aircraft will be more high tech, safer and have a larger capacity to hold retardant. The planes will also have turbine instead of piston engines, which will make them faster and more fuel efficient.
Several of the new airtankers will be in service soon enough to help with this year's wildfire-fighting efforts.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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