Firefighting Airplane Still on Wish List

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Despite a canceled test run and opposition from state firefighters, Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Encino) said Monday he will push ahead with plans to acquire a water-scooping airplane to protect Southern Californians from urban wildfires.

Sunday’s test in Malibu was supposed to highlight the CL-415’s ability to scoop up 1,600 gallons of water from the ocean in 12 seconds, but low-lying clouds forced officials to scrub the mission. The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow tests to take place in cloudy weather.

The plane took off Monday from Van Nuys Airport, where it been headquartered.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t have a chance to see it operate,” Friedman said, “but it was not a failure. We’re working closely with Sen. (Barbara) Boxer and Congressman (Anthony) Beilenson to find a source of federal funds to lease the planes.”


Citing the devastation of last year’s wildfires in Malibu, Calabasas and Laguna Beach, Friedman has proposed leasing the airplane for a two-year, $1.7-million pilot program. The state Assembly has already approved the project, which will go before the Senate on June 28.

Canadair, maker of the CL-415, says its twin turbo engine plane has the ability to skim water from oceans, lakes, reservoirs and rivers. The amphibious aircraft has been used as a firefighting tool in France, Italy, Greece and other European countries.

Some state firefighters have withheld support of Friedman’s proposal, saying that the $1.7 million could be better spent on acquiring several smaller aircraft or helicopters that could reach fires before they spread beyond a few acres.

Capt. Dan Young of the Orange County Fire Department said he would welcome the Super Scooper concept as long as federal resources paid for it.

“I don’t know of a fire department that could afford one on its own,” said Young. “But if the feds were able to have one available for red-flag conditions, when we get high winds, it would be a valuable resource.”