Tester: Neptune contract is important win for Montana, forested communities

(U.S. SENATE) – Missoula’s Neptune Aviation Services is on track to once again help the U.S. Forest Service fight wild fires, Senator Jon Tester announced today.

Neptune Aviation, a Missoula-based airtanker service with over 100 employees, is in the final stages of securing a contract with the U.S. Forest Service to use Neptune’s Next Generation airtankers to help fight wildfires in 2014.

Tester, a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the Forest Service’s budget, repeatedly pushed the Forest Service to reexamine the wildfire aitranker contracts.

“Neptune Aviation has helped protect homes and communities for two decades and today’s news means that the men and women of Neptune will continue flying,” Tester said. “Neptune is an outstanding Montana company that provides an essential service and I’m pleased I was able to bring the Forest Service and Neptune together to find a way for Neptune to continue serving our nation’s firefighting needs.”

Neptune Aviation CEO Ron Hooper worked closely with Tester during the contract negotiation:

“This solicitation is good news for Neptune Aviation,” Hooper said. “It’s been a long eight months, but our employees have continued to do a great job during this uncertainty, working to provide the best possible product for the Forest Service and the American public. I appreciate the work of Senator Tester, and the rest of the Montana Delegation, who kept the pressure on the Forest Service to make sure Neptune got a fair shake. Today’s announcement is the product of a lot of hard work by him, our employees and the Forest Service.”

Tester worked on the Neptune airtanker contract issue since early May 2013.

  • May 16, 2013 – Senators Tester and Baucus wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to ask for clarification on the timeline of the next-gen airtankers ability to fight wildfires.
  • May 22, 2013 – During an Appropriations Committee hearing with the Forest Service Chief, Tester told Chief Tom Tidwell that the Forest Service left better air tanker options on the table.
  • July 22, 2013 – Sen. Tester meets with Robert Bonnie, Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, about the aerial firefighting fleet and the need to maintain Neptune as an aerial firefighting contractor.
  • August 20, 2013 – GAO issues report requested by Sens. Tester, Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) called on the Government Accountability Office to analyze the Forest Service’s long-term plans for air tankers. The report reveals significant concerns with the Forest Service’s strategy for updating the tanker fleet.
  • August 27, 2013 – Tester calls U.S. Forest Service Chief Tidwell to discuss the tanker issues arising from August 20 GAO report and urges fair consideration of Neptune as an aerial firefighting contractor.

The Forest Service contract will be finalized in 10 business days. During the intervening 10 days, other airtanker companies can file a protest with the Forest Service.