Every summer the Hellenic Republic faces devastating wildfires that are pushing the Mediterranean nation into a constant struggle to improve its capacity and readiness to effectively fight natural disasters that cause enormous damage throughout the region. The key tool in combating this threat is the various aircraft leased under contract from private operators or provided as assistance by the European Union and other nations.
In an effort to further improve the greek-owned aerial firefighting capabilities, an invitation to participate in a preliminary consultation related to the planned acquisition of new fire-fighting aircraft was published by Greece’s Ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection on 22 November 2022. The public call invited interested parties to take part in the request for proposal (RFP) closing bids on 24 December 2022. This should result in a decision by Greek authorities early in 2023 to decide on the acquisition of Greece’s new dedicated aerial fire-fighting platform.
The technical specifications presented as part of the ongoing preliminary consultation define the requirements and operational characteristics concerning the supply of a total of 36 factory-new single-engine turboprop fixed-wing aircraft in amphibious configuration, out of which 30 would be single-seat and 6 twin-seat/dual-control planes.
The documentation stated in the RPF requires an aircraft that can maintain:
A maximum cruising speed of at least 150 Knots
Range of at least 500 nautical miles
Operational autonomy of at least 3 hours
Built-in tank of at least 3,000 liters (approx 800 gallons)
Possibility to operate from 3200 feet minimum runway at maximum take-off weight (MTOW)
Ability to start the engine without an external power source.
The required 36 aircraft are to be delivered within six years from contract signing, with six aircraft (of which at least three should be twin-seaters) within the first year. A further six aircraft are to be delivered within two years, and six additional single-seat aircraft annually over the following four years.
The yet-to-be-selected supplier must provide full support of the aircraft with spare parts, based on the annual flight hours time of the fleet (power-by-hour model) for a period of four years. For budgetary reasons, the 300 flight hours per aircraft are planned annually with buyers keeping the option to operate planes even above this limit.
The supplier along with its offer is obliged to submit a complete and precise training plan for 10 pilots and 15 technicians that are to be trained in the minimum required time. For operational training, the supplier shall provide 3 instructors on site in Greece for a period of 2 years upon the delivery of the first three twin-seat aircraft, while additionally providing one instructor in the second year for a duration of at least one year. Said instructors will also carry out operations during the summer season.
The initial training of technical personnel (theoretical and practical modules) shall include all the required training for the technician to be capable of maintaining the type of acquired aircraft. The practical training must have such an extent that upon its completion the technician will be able to independently support the aircraft.
The procurement will be co-financed by the European Union’s NextGenerationEU instrument, more precisely within the framework implementation of the project “Purchase of amphibious fire-fighting aircraft for the islands clusters” of the action with code 16911 included in the National Recovery Plan and Resilience “Greece 2.0”, then by the Greek National Strategic Reference Frameworks (NSRF) 2021-2027 program and also by the European Investment Bank (EIB). The total VAT-exclusive budget for this procurement is estimated at 144,906,378.00 Euro.
Based on publicly available documents it is very likely that Greece has fashioned the RFP toward procurement of the US-made Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss amphibious aircraft, a globally popular and highly efficient fire-fighting water bomber that is also well known in Greece where it has served under lease for the past few years proving its operational effectiveness and suitability to the Hellenic Republic.
Manufactured by Air Tractor Inc., the Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss is a Type III Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) that carries 3,104 liters (800 gallons) of water in a hopper located between the engine firewall and the cockpit. For precise fire-fighting operations, the plane is equipped with the Fire Retardant Dispersal System (FRDS) all-electric firegate coupled with an advanced computer in the cockpit that gives the pilot the ability to choose how it will use the water/foam/retardant the plane carries: from making multiple drops on same or different fires with a single water reservoir; through the creation of 600-800 meter-long, 10 meter-wide uninterrupted retardant barrier lines intended to stop the wildfire spread.
The AT-802 is available as a single-seat (AT-802A) or twin-seat (AT-802) aircraft, also in land and amphibious configurations. Equipped with conventional landing gear (two main wheels and a tail wheel), the AT-802 operates from airport runways as well as from short dirt strips and/or public roads. In this variant, the plane is filled with water on the ground from firefighting or water-carrying trucks, from a water tank, or simply from a hydrant. When using a high-flow pump, the time to fill the plane is less than 2 minutes.
When equipped with the Wipaire 10,000 amphibious floats (each featuring hydraulically extendable/retractable landing gear with single-wheel nose leg and twin-wheel main leg), the aircraft is known as the AT-802 Fire Boss. This very capable and tightly specialized fire-bomber can land on traditional paved or unpaved runways and be filled with water on the ground or can scoop/collect water by skimming the surface of rivers, lakes, dams, and open seas. The Fire Boss only requires 15 seconds to scoop a full load of water.
The current production AT-802s are powered by a 1,700 HP PT6A-67F engine that drives a metal five-blade Hartzell propeller. This engine’s low average fuel consumption of 80 gallons/hour combined with the aircraft fuel capacity of 380 gallons (accommodated in two integral fuel tanks) allows operational endurance of more than 4 hours at temperatures of up to 49ºC. The Direct Operating Cost of AT-802 is in the range of $900 per flight hour.
With Bombardier CL-415 Canadair out of production since 2015 and the fate of its announced successor – the De Havilland DHC-515 Firefighter – still uncertain, the AT-802 remains the only purpose-built firefighting aircraft currently in production in Europe and the U.S. Its serial production continues at a rate of some 25 aircraft annually.
Over 950 AT-802s have so far been produced and the aircraft is now a firefighting standard for most wildfires-prone countries. It is in service (owned or leased) with the governments and private operators in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, Israel, Cyprus, Croatia (Air Force), Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, the United States, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Gambia, Burkina Faso (Air Force), South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Columbia, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia. An interest in the AT-802 Fire Boss was also recently announced by additional two Balkan nations: Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia.
With a long endurance of over 4 hours, the AT-802 can also be used as a Search and Rescue or Aerial Surveillance platform, and this is especially true for twin-seat AT-802 that can accommodate a back-seat observer and a camera system with live video transmission to ground-based operational centers. The two-seater is also often used as a command post for aerial firefighting coordination while at the same time being utilized for training new and proficiency checks of existing AT-802 pilots.