FACTSHEET: B.C.'s airtanker fleet and the Martin Mars

Friday, July 10, 2015 9:45 AM

General comments:

  • The BC Wildfire Service works continually to ensure that the most appropriate equipment is available to protect our natural resources and communities from wildfire risks.
  • It's important to note that aircraft do not put out wildfires; ground crews do.
  • The BC Wildfire Service typically responds to an average of about 2,000 fires every year throughout the province. In an average season, airtankers conduct about 600 missions.
  • At full operational readiness, the Province has access to 32 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters (16 airtankers, 8 bird dogs, 6 medium-lift helicopters, 1 light-lift helicopter and 1 parattack jumpship), as well as 98 ground-attack vehicles.
  • The province can bring in additional contract helicopters as needed. Over 100 helicopters are currently helping to fight wildfires throughout B.C.
  • The provincial aircraft fleet is repositioned constantly during the fire season to be ready for anticipated fire starts in high-risk regions. This strategic prepositioning reduces firefighting costs overall.
  • Depending on the level of wildfire activity in the province, the government may request assistance from other jurisdictions through the Mutual Aid Resources Sharing Agreement, which allows for the movement and sharing of firefighting resources (including aircraft) between B.C. and other provinces and territories. International resources may also be requested if needed.

Current status of the Martin Mars:

  • Given the extraordinary fire situation this year and recognizing that public safety is paramount, we need to look at every possible "tool in our toolbox."
  • Effective July 11, 2015, the B.C. government entered into a one-month agreement with the Coulson Group to use the Martin Mars airtanker.
  • While there are more cost-effective options available, in the right circumstances, the Martin Mars can supplement B.C.'s airtanker fleet.
  • The Martin Mars has not been used to fight forest fires for the past two years. Given that it is "coming out of retirement", the BC Wildfire Service needs to ensure that it is safe to fly. The Coulson Group is currently getting the Martin Mars ready and making sure that all personnel are certified and familiar with BC Wildfire Service firefighting procedures.

Air Tractor AT-802F "Fire Boss" amphibious airtankers:

  • In the spring of 2014, the Province acquired the contracted services of four Air Tractor AT-802F "Fire Boss" amphibious airtankers that can drop water, foam or retardant on a fire.
  • The Fire Boss aircraft are versatile, efficient and effective in suppressing B.C.'s wildfires.
  • The Fire Boss can skim up to 3,025 litres of water in 15 seconds from over 1,700 water bodies in B.C. and land at airports, including the Province's 17 airtanker bases. This airtanker group also includes a Cessna Grand Caravan bird dog aircraft.
  • The average turnaround time for the Fire Bosses is seven minutes.
  • The targeting accuracy of the Fire Boss allows firefighting crews to take a more aggressive approach to fighting a wildfire and allows skimming aircraft to work in conjunction with retardant-delivering airtankers.
  • The BC Wildfire Service has the option to split up the Fire Boss group and attack multiple targets at once. This is especially valuable when fighting a series of fires sparked by intense lighting storms.
  • If one of the Fire Boss aircraft were to experience mechanical difficulties, the other three aircraft in the group would remain in service.

Martin Mars airtanker:

  • From 2007 to 2013, the Martin Mars was deployed on 20 wildfires, or about 0.5 per cent of the 3,476 airtanker missions flown during that period (at a cost of about $4.8 million).
    Because of its size, the Martin Mars can only land on and scoop up water from about 113 bodies of water in B.C.
  • Because of its relatively slow airspeed and large size, the Martin Mars is more difficult to integrate into B.C.'s firefighting operations, including close air support for firefighters on the ground.
  • Many airtankers can drop long-term fire retardant on a wildfire to slow its growth and allow ground crews to safely contain it. This ability is critical in B.C.'s terrain and firefighting conditions. The Martin Mars cannot drop long-term fire retardant.
  • The Martin Mars' large drop pattern can sometimes make it unsafe to use when providing close air support for ground crews. Firefighters on the ground have to stop work until the drops are completed, which may increase the risk of a fire escaping during the critical initial attack stage.
  • Although the Martin Mars has a tank capacity of 27,250 litres, the average drop volume is 19,000 litres.
  • The average turnaround time for the Martin Mars is 19 minutes.
  • The ability to reposition the Martin Mars is restricted due to its limited airspeed, its need to land on larger bodies of water, its inability to land at airports and refuelling requirements when it's working away from its primary base.
  • Repositioning the Martin Mars is more challenging than repositioning smaller aircraft because of the significant logistical support that it requires.


  • The Province does not own any fixed wing aircraft or helicopters. The four Fire Bosses are operated by Conair Group of Abbotsford for $2.5 million per fire season, plus an hourly flying rate. The current contract provides for the use of all four airtankers and a bird dog aircraft for 100 days per fire season.
  • The standby cost for the Martin Mars during the 2015 fire season is $15,000 per day and the flight time charge is $6,000 per hour. The Province will also pay for the fuel, which is about $5,000 per hour. 
  • The hourly operating rate (including fuel) for all four Fire Bosses combined is approximately half that of the single Martin Mars. The daily availability cost for the combined four Fire Boss aircraft is equal to that of the Martin Mars.
  • The cost of fuel per hour for all four Fire Bosses combined is less than half the cost of fuel per hour for the single Martin Mars.

Media Contact:

Media Relations
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
250 356-5261

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