Cost of fighting forest fires from air is prohibitive

This year’s leasing of firefighting aircraft in Greece is expected to cost 40 million euros, a major jump on previous years when the annual cost was 20-24 million. The cost of renting helicopters (five Kamov, seven M26 and four Erickson Air Cranes) is expected to reach 27,920,000 euros, for 90 days or 120 hours’ flight time, according to the contract. For every additional flying hour, the state pays another 5,000 euros for the Ericksons and 7,000 euros for the M26. There is to be no extra charge for the Kamovs, since there is a 320-hour surplus carried over from last year. Contracts in previous years have carried the condition that if an aircraft does not complete 120 flying hours during the firefighting season, these may be carried over to the next season. To these costs another 2.8 million euros must be added for a Beriev Be-200 aircraft that arrived in late July from Russia, along with two M8 helicopters which will cost 1,280,000 euros. A few years ago, in an attempt to reduce the cost of leasing aircraft, and since most, apart from the Ericksons, were Russian-made, the Public Order Ministry approached the Russian Embassy in Athens with a proposal for a bilateral accord, doing away with the firm that acted as a middleman. The proposal was not accepted, however. A committee was then set up to examine the profitability of buying aircraft, perhaps via long-term leasing. However, the committee never completed its work but the initial study showed that buying aircraft would require setting up a maintenance base with expert personnel. Early this year yet another committee was set up to study the need to renew the fleet of purchased firefighting aircraft, which consists of 13 CL-215s, eight CL-415s, 19 PZL Swidnik and three Grumman. The committee, comprising fire brigade and air force personnel, is expected to complete its brief and submit proposals in about a month. According to initial estimates, although the old Canadair, the CL-215, are still considered flightworthy, they do need to be replaced. According to Public Order Ministry officials, as they have aged, they have needed more and more maintenance and are therefore grounded for long periods. In fact, during peak times, some are looted for spare parts for other aircraft. The same sources said that if the fleet is renewed, it will also include the lighter PZL Swidnik aircraft. The CL-215s are most likely to be replaced by CL-415s or Berievs. The purchase of about 10 of these aircraft is believed to be more than adequate to replace the current fleet. The CL-415 are expected to cost 20 million euros, the Berievs 25-30 million euros. Of course, if a decision is made to buy aircraft, as a ministry official expects, the price will also depend on other factors, including offset benefits. The firm that represents Canadair in Greece has often submitted proposals to the ministry to repurchase the CL-215s and replace them with CL-415s.