COLORADO SPRINGS — The Colorado Springs-based Supertanker has an uncertain future. The company who owns the plane shut it down to sell it.
Global Supertanker Services (GSTS) President Dan Reese said it’s being shut down due to financial reasons. An Alterna-managed fund (“The Fund”), via its investment in GSTS, entered the aerial firefighting business to address the growing need for aerial firefighting resources in response to the increased number and intensity of global wildland fires.
The plane — a Boeing 747-400 freighter — can drop more than 19,000 gallons. It is just one of about 34 large supertankers in the country that is committed to aerial containment of fires. Although it never helped battle wildfires in Colorado, it saved the land from burning in places like Chile, Bolivia, Isreal, Oregon, and California.
“Anytime you are up close and you see something this big and do what it does, it’s awe inspiring,” GSTS President Dan Reese said.
The red and white plane helps heroic firefighters on the ground save structures and land but now the Global Supertanker is in danger of continuing to fight flames.
“It’s all about contracts, and where those contracts can be paid for and where you can work,” Reese explained. “There are companies that are invested in these assets and the personnel and there is an operating cost associated with it so as long as you are sitting on a ‘call-when-needed’ contract and that is your bread and butter but if you’re not engaged in fire then you have no income for the year.”
The first federal contract by the U.S. Forest Service was granted last year to GSTS. The plane has made upgrades that meet the federal requirements which improved the plane’s capabilities of battling wildfires such as the digital-analog system, deployment of retardent, and ease of use.
In Alterna statement, it stated the economics under the company’s current federal “call-when-needed” contract are such that the investment will take longer to realize profitability than previously expected.
“The price it was commanding prior to the digital upgrade it was one of the lowest cost per gallon aircraft in the fleet,” Reese added.
However, the upgrades weren’t enough to keep Alterna from ceasing operations. GSTS President hopes the aircraft will fly another day for the purpose of fire fighting.
“It makes it ideal to go long distances when people are in need so it’s definitely a tool that I think if it goes away it will be sorely missed and it will be a difficult tool that will be difficult to replicate and replace,” Reese said.
The Global Supertanker is currently sitting in Washington at the Moses Lake Municipal Airport until a future for it has been decided. GSTS President believes a decision will be made in a week. Up to 40 people could lose their job.
The two options are another company who wants to keep the aircraft flying for fires could purchase the plane or sell the aircraft as a freighter which by the COVID-19 crisis has led to a significant increase in value for freighter aircraft.