The US Forest  Service has awarded contracts to four companies  for seven "next  generation" airtankers for fighting forest fires.

The contracts, each for a base period of five years, require the airplanes to have trubine power, with a minimum of 2,400 gallons of retardant and a cruising speed of at  least 300 knots when fully loaded.

Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, MT will provide 2 BAe-146s this year. The company has been working with Minden Air Corporation and the Forest Service to bring three of the BA3-146s into service. Minden is also contracted to bring to service another such plane in 2013.

Aero Air was contracted for 2 MD87s next year and Aero Flight of Kingman Arizona will provide an Avro RJ85 next year.

The Forest Service also announced mobilization of eight more aircraft immediately for firefighting, which brings to 16 the number of large airtankers and one very large airtanker. This does not include single-engine airtankers.

Meanwhile, a preliminary report on the fatal crash of a Neptune air tanker in Utah confirmed that the Lookheed P2V-7 crashed into a mountain, killing the pilot and co-pilot, when it followed the lead plane into a shallow valley. The accident occurred June 3. The pilots were from Boise, Idaho.