Pilot shortage keeps some CAL FIRE air tankers grounded
The Sacramento Bee
September 4, 2018
By Kate Irby and Adam Ashton
California’s long and deadly wildfire season is wearing down its firefighting pilots and causing Cal Fire to ground as many as six aircraft at a time because of staffing shortages. Schedules obtained by The Sacramento Bee show a rising number of grounded aircraft as the summer fire season progressed because pilots were unavailable to fly the planes. The shortage is particularly acute among low-flying S-2T tanker pilots. An average of four of the state’s 23 tankers have been grounded on certain days in August because they lacked pilots.
The staffing issue is going to take a while to address. In order to cover current shortfalls, fix the daunting schedule Brown admits is having adverse effects on their pilots and staff new planes coming in, Brown estimates they’ll need about 40 more pilots in the next few years. Eight people are currently in training to become air tanker pilots, but Brown said historically less than half of trainees actually decide to become air tanker pilots with Cal Fire.