Slovenia committed to building a dedicated aerial fire-fighting fleet that would begin operating this June using two brand-new 3,104-liter (800 Gallon) capacity Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss twin-seat, single-engine fire-fighting planes that would be supplemented next year with additional two single-seat AT-802A Fire Boss planes, Slovenian defense minister Marjan Šarec said on 17 June in Ljubljana during the ceremony for signing the Agreement for the acquisition of 4 Air Tractor planes from the Spanish, Viver-based company Air Tractor Europe (ATE).
the Agreement on behalf of Slovenia was signed by Minister Šarec and Leon Behin, the Acting Director General of the Slovenian Ministry of Defence (MoD) subordinated Uprava Republike Slovenije za zaščito in reševanje (URSZR, Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for protection and rescue). Rafael Selma, ATE’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) signed the Agreement in the name of the Spanish company that represents in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East the U.S., Texas-based aircraft manufacturer Air Tractor Inc., an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of the AT-802 plane.
Informing that the purchase marks a new era in the fight against natural disasters in Slovenia, Šarec said that the decision to buy the planes was Ljubljana’s immediate response to the awareness that the nation was not possessing proper aerial means for fighting wildfires, something that became obvious in July 2022 when Slovenia faced the devastating Karst wildfire that required international aid and enormous efforts to be put under control.
The aircraft purchased by the MoD would operate under civilian (S5-) registration within a special aerial fire-fighting unit that would be established within URSZR. For the purpose of putting the unit in operational use, a training of new pilots and related technical personnel would be organized by ATE that would help Slovenia to put its Air Tractors in use in the summer of 2023. While various airports across Slovenia would be used for the purpose, the unit’s home base is yet to be decided with options being Brnik international airport, near Ljubljana, or Cerklje ob Krki air base, located near Brežice and close to the border with Croatia.
Slovenia’s program for the establishment of aerial firefighting capabilities has been approved at a government session held in Ljubljana on 30 January. A new dedicated national development project was launched then for the construction of aerial firefighting capabilities in the period 2023-2026 with a maximum of 6 small fire-fighting planes, 4 firm orders, and 2 options.
Being co-financed (85%) by the European cohesion policy funds for the period 2021-2027, the Slovenian project now focuses on the initial acquisition of 4 planes and establishing an OEM-backed training and logistical system that would allow URSZR planes to become part of the common aerial fire-fighting fleet of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (rescEU) that apart of protecting Slovenia will also help extinguishing wildfires within the EU as well as in other nations in need.
In case the option for the acquisition of additional two planes is implemented, Slovenia would further increase its Air Tractor fleet during or after 2025.
Over 1,000 Air Tractor AT-802 planes were built since 1992 and this aircraft is now a fire-fighting standard for most wildfires-prone countries. It was already bought and put in service with the governments and private operators in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Sweden, Israel, Cyprus, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
According to ATE, serious interest in purchasing the AT-802 plane has so far also been demonstrated by Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aside from selling planes, ATE is also very active in leasing AT-802s and providing aerial fire-fighting services to various governments in Europe and beyond with record 50 ATE AT-802 planes expected to operate this year in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Saudi Arabia.