formerly at Environmental New Service
Opinion: World's Best
Fire-Fighting Plane Ignored
By John D. Anderson
CALGARY, Alberta, Canada, March 23, 1999 (ENS) - The World Trade
Organization and United Nations agencies ought to act...like firefighters.
These organizations ought immediately to recommend a Russia-based, global
firefighting service utilizing the heavy-lift modern jet, the Ilyushin-76TD.
The world's largest, most powerful, firefighting aircraft - the
Ilyushin-76TD (Il-76) - sat on a runway in Russia in 1997 and 1998 while the
world's biggest, most wasteful wildfires consumed valuable animal habitat
and timber in Asia, Africa and South America. These fires caused many deaths
and health problems and exacerbated a worsening global warming situation.
This heavy-lift, modern-era, jet aircraft carries up to 135,000 pounds of
liquids; five-plus times the liquids load of the next-largest fire-fighting
planes, North American waterbombers.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Environment
Programme (UNEP) could organize and deploy the Il-76 for worldwide fire
fighting through a three nation integrated service known as Global Emergency
Global Emergency Response is a comprehensively integrated Il-76 aircraft
emergency service complete with spares and a certified, qualified crew of
eight per aircraft for global fire fighting and other disaster and
humanitarian relief missions. It involves experts in Russia, Canada and the
WTO recognized in its high-level trade and environment symposium last week
that solutions to world environmental problems, fire among the chief
problems, may be hampered by trade barriers and national rules and
regulations. That is the WTO's expertise. So it can and should facilitate
utilization of leading technologies such as Il-76 with solid policy.
In sufficient numbers, this aircraft and its gifted Russian crews should
seasonally stand by, at strategically located runways the world over, ready
to stop the burning. Not inconsequentially, providing this service would
allow the Russian Federation to make the kind of money it will take to
breathe new life into its own flagging firefighting forces.
The tanking system used by Global Emergency Response can fit into any Il-76
and there are 100s of them in varying states of repair from brand new to
fair. These aircraft fly daily in cargo duty throughout the world. Tanking
systems can be manufactured in short order as they are simply large aluminum
cannisters with huge sealed hatches in the rear.
The Il-76 is large enough to handle the biggest fires that cause 95 percent
of the forest destruction globally.
There is no good reason this uniquely capable aerial firefighter could not
now be deployed to stop unwanted burning everywhere: from urban interface
and agricultural areas in Australia, California, and Florida, to bush,
savanna, and rainforest in Latin America and Southeast Asia, to the great
boreal forests of the north and the grasslands of Africa.
After much prodding from Global Emergency Response backers in North America,
the U.S. Forest Service, an acknowledged world leader in wildfire
suppression, tested the Il-76 aircraft at a British runway in September
U.S. Forest Service testers jumped up and down yelling "perfect, perfect" in
reference to the liquids drop characteristics and flight handling
capabilities during the drop. They published a press release acknowledging
the utility of the Russian giant. But then the U.S. Forest Service testers
went on to publish in the U.S. and Canada, an equivocal technical report.
We at Global Emergency Response think the U.S. Forest Service wrote the
technical report the way they did to keep the system at status quo. They
feared competition, and they especially didn't want to be shown up by the
Extra long runway lengths were said to have been needed as the aircraft is a
heavy, big one. On the other hand, an aircraft like this will rarely go out
with full fuel, yet the component of fuel weight was added in to produce a
ridiculously long runway requirement. In reality, for such a big aircraft,
the runway requirements are short. For this and other reasons, the Russian
engineers called the report "unprofessional" in certain material respects.
Even after the 1998 Florida blaze near Daytona that caused the cancellation
of the Daytona 500, and a forest fire induced evacuation from Salmon Arm,
British Columbia, North American agencies continue to deny their citizens
and their environment the Russians' offer of the best, most cost-effective
Since 1995, the U.S. Forest Service has reneged on its undertaking to see
the Il-76 through a round-peg-in-square-hole domestic approval process which
would virtually assure the Russians worldwide acceptance of their premium,
yet affordable, firefighting service.
The services of the Il-76 tankers are charged by the hour - US$10,000 per
hour plus fuel. This rate is 184 percent more cost effective per pound of
liquid delivered to the fire than the largest Canadian tanker, the DC-6.
Figures for comparable U.S. fire-fighting planes are not available.
In Canada, without independent testing, firefighting agencies seized upon
the U.S. Forest Service tech-report's perceived downside. They advised their
ministers there were too many iffy areas and that further testing, possibly
refinement, would be necessary.
Canadian politicians, expressing
conditional support for the plane, deferred to the United States to resolve
any outstanding technical questions.
Even two seasons for record fire suppression expenditures - 1995 at Cdn$.5
billion and 1998 at Cdn$.7 billion failed to motivate Canadians to move on
the Russian aircraft service or even see it for themselves. This in the face
of government generated evidence that the heaviest hitters in Canada's
fleets' of fixed-wing, firefighting aircraft are getting too long in the
tooth to see safe fire action very much longer.
Efforts have been made to deploy the Il-76 to Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico,
all to mysteriously inconsequential ends.
Australians entertained a demonstration of the Il-76's tanker potential at
the southern hemisphere's largest airshow in March 1995. Australian
firefighters saw right through the U.S. Forest Service's test report and
took the Il-76 to a test of their own later that year in Moscow. Finding the
aircraft and its handling characteristics quite satisfactory, the Aussies
still neglected to hire the Russian service in ensuing seasons.
Australasia inaction on the big Russian tanker cost Indonesia and associated
ASEAN countries dearly in 1997 and 1998. By some estimates, before health
costs, those fires cost US$4.4 billion.
The tiny aircraft Australia and other countries were able to send Indonesia,
even U.S. heavy haulers, were singularly unimpressive against the fury of
the rainforest fires on the Indonesian island of Borneo and especially
against the perennial, deep peat fires that will not go out.
It wasn't until the fury of the worst fires in 100 years hit Greece last
summer that a country outside the Russian Federation was able to muster the
Russian giant quickly to subdue two of its biggest fires. In Greece, the
Russian fire weapon finally and conclusively broke through
barriers-to-entry local firefighters the world over were throwing up.
UNEP and the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination agency have
a lead on global fire information, an area surprisingly not all that well
According to the 1999 UNEP report "Wildland Fires and the Environment: A
up to 40 percent of carbon dioxide and 38 percent of tropospheric ozone
comes from biomass burning.
Analysis shows that five percent of the wildfires - the big ones - cause 95
percent of the destruction.
Under a perverse provision of the
Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention
on Climate Change, carbon balance accounting does not take disastrous
biomass burning emissions into account unless it is "prescribed burning,"
done to remove fuel. This is a disincentive to better fuel management at the
same time as it is a nod to large-scale biomass burning, no matter how
Human interaction with forests causes up to 90 percent of this waste. Let's
take a look at a bigger, better, globally-organized firefighting weapon -
the Il-76 tanker system.
The World Trade Organization and the United Nations agencies should apply
Rio Earth Summit principles of sustainability to battling fires around the
Let's deploy the Russian giant firefighting tanker now, before we sit down
to plan and produce a sister to the World Trade Organization, the World
[John Anderson is a partner in Global Emergency Response. He is a
non-practicing lawyer with a background in aviation, and a former pilot with
experience in air traffic control for tree-top flying in New Brunswick,
Canada. He resides in Calgary.]