Frequently Asked Questions Minden-Tahoe & Stead Air Tanker Bases

The Minden-Tahoe Airport has leased space to the Nevada Division of Forestry for an air tanker base since the mid 1970s. The current buildings were built in the early 1990s and are owned by the NDF.

From the early days BLM has provided the majority of staff to service the contracted heavy air tankers that utilize the NDF base to reload fire retardant and refuel. NDF hosted the private contract to provide fire retardant until 1999, but BLM took over this contract in 2000 due to NDF budget cuts.

In May 2004, all 26 heavy air tankers across the country were grounded due to two air tanker crashes (this was down from 48 heavy air tankers in the late 80's). Only 18 heavy air tankers returned to flight status in May 2005 and none of them are assigned to any specific air tanker base. All air tankers are national assets managed by the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho; NICC adjusts the deployment and temporary basing of air tankers on a daily basis during fire season based on national priorities.

Two SEATs are scheduled to be assigned to the Stead base in 2009, though they will be subject to deployment to fires outside the Sierra Front by NICC if needed. No SEATs are scheduled to be based at Minden-Tahoe, though a mobile support unit to reload and refuel available SEAT aircraft on nearby fires could be utilized quickly under a local airport use agreement.

According to Federal Interagency Policy (Interagency Air Tanker Base Operations Guide, NFES- 2271, 11B1) large air tanker bases require a minimum staffing level of four positions: base manager, assistant base manager, ramp manager and radio/time. Flat budgets and expected decreases limit the BLM's Carson City District's ability to continue to provide the required minimum staffing at both the Minden and Stead (BLM) air tanker bases. The BLM staff that have been assisting at Minden are needed to adequately staff the Stead base and to manage BLM contracts for single engine air tankers.

The BLM utilizes U.S. Forest Service;contracted heavy air tankers and California State air tankers for fires along the Sierra Front, justifying the need to keep one fully‐functioning heavy air tanker base for reload operations along the Sierra Front at Stead Airport. This consolidation will improve BLM's efficiency and safety by strengthening one air base rather than hosting two air bases at or below minimum staffing levels.

BLM now primarily utilizes SEATs in Nevada and eastern California because these aircraft are newer, smaller and more maneuverable in tight places, more cost-effective, and most importantly for this discussion, all SEATs come with a mobile support unit to reload and refuel the aircraft; in other words, SEATs do not have to be tied to a heavy air tanker reload base.

Since SEATs work best when they are positioned as close to a fire as possible, BLM has set up local airport use agreements with Alpine County (Markleeville), Carson City, Dayton, Silver Springs, and Fallon. Similar agreements will be negotiated with Minden-Tahoe, Truckee, and South Lake Tahoe airports, enabling SEATs to be much closer to any fires around Lake Tahoe.

SEATs can even operate off paved roads and dirt strips near a wildland fire if necessary - something that is impossible for the dwindling number of Type 1 heavy air tankers.

The Stead airport has multiple long runways on different compass bearings, which allows air tankers to take off and land during periods of high cross winds. The Minden-Tahoe airport has only one long and one short parallel runway, which severely limits air tanker operations during high cross wind events (the facility was built during WWII so that bombers could practice crosswind take-offs and landings). When taking off, fully-oaded heavy air tankers like the P2V have to circle the Eagle Valley around Minden-Tahoe Airport to get over the mountain ranges; this is not a problem for airtankers using Stead.

The Minden-Tahoe airport is also an "uncontrolled" facility (no control tower) utilized by many private gliders and tow planes. The frequency of their use during fire season is a significant safety issue during heavy air tanker operations.

Analysis shows that initial attack air response times from heavy air tankers (if available) will be only minimally affected. For example, the response time to a wildland fire at the southern end of the Lake Tahoe basin would be a difference of about five minutes for heavy air tankers reloading at Stead rather than Minden-Tahoe.

The Stead air tanker base is 40 air miles from Minden-Tahoe. The next four closest heavy air tanker reload facilities and the distance/typical flight time are:

- Grass Valley, Calif., 59 miles, 20 minutes (only 19 miles/7 minutes farther than Stead)

- Columbia, Calif., 63 miles, 21 minutes

- Chester, Calif., 103 miles, 34 minutes

- Bishop, Calif., 117 miles, 39 minutes

The overall economic impacts will be minimal. Minden-Tahoe Airport will lose landing fees that are paid each time a large air tanker lands. As stated earlier, Single Engine Air Tankers could still utilize the airport under a local airport use agreement.

Yes. NDF has deployed two Type 2 helicopters at Minden-Tahoe Airport since 2005.

The BLM does not plan to staff the Minden-Tahoe base even if additional funds became

available. If additional funding became available from an outside source, i.e. state, county, city, private individual, etc., it would be the decision of the interagency cooperators to staff the base.

No. BLM will continue to provide staff at the Minden Interagency Dispatch Center.

Staffing the IDC is not tied to the staffing of the air tanker base at Minden‐Tahoe Airport.


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