Air Tanker Owner Stays Ready For Call

MINDEN, Nev. (AP) -- The owner of two large firefighting air tankers grounded by the federal government says the 3,128-acre Cole complex fires 30 miles south of here would have been held to a quarter of that size if his crews had been allowed to respond.

``It's very, very frustrating, especially when most of the folks that are the hands-on people on the fire line realize the value of what we provide,'' Minden Air Corp. President Leonard Parker said.

When the tankers were grounded in May, officials said the aircraft were used for initial attack and support and most of the firefighting efforts took place on the ground. The Forest Service has added helicopters and smaller, single-engine air tankers.

``We feel really bad about it for two reasons,'' Parker said. ``One, obviously, is a business concern. The other is, we're firefighters. This is what were here to do in the Great Basin. We have the most effective tool to accomplish the job.''

Parker said he expects two investigators from DynCorp of Fort Worth, Texas, to inspect the Minden tankers for the Forest Service.

``They will be looking at our maintenance procedures, records and personnel qualifications. Out of that, we expect they will issue some recommendations forwarded to the Forest Service as to whose airplanes and whose operations in the Forest Service view are OK to proceed,'' Parker said.

``I don't believe they will find anything wrong,'' Parker said. ``We're working on the aircraft. We're doing the things we can do to maintain the state of readiness.''

He estimated the company, with 17 employees, has lost more than $1 million since the tankers were grounded.