Slovenia Receives First Air Tractor AT-802 Aerial Firefighting Aircraft

The Republic of Slovenia received its first Air Tractor AT-802 single-engine fire-fighting plane on May 9th, 2023, the nation’s Ministry of Defence confirmed. The twin-seat aircraft in a land-based configuration (with classical, tricycle-type landing gear) landed at Ljubljana/Brnik “Jože Pučnik” international airport after a flight that began on the same morning at Viver airport in Spain and proceeded towards Slovenia with a single stop at Calvi/Sainte-Catherine airport on Corsica, France.

The aircraft arrived in Slovenia with Spanish temporary registration EC-NZL (ex N85152, c/n 802-0990) that will be replaced by the Slovenian civil registration S5-BZR.

Another plane in an identical configuration (twin-seat AT-802 with classical tricycle-type landing gear) is scheduled for delivery to Slovenia by June 15th this year. The 4-strong fleet will be complete in March 2024 when two amphibian-configured single-seat AT-802A Fire Boss planes will arrive in Slovenia. Meanwhile, the twin-seat planes will return to Spain, where they will get floats installed before the end of October 2023, resulting in the change of their designation from AT-802 to an AT-802 Fire Boss.

Following the devastating Karst wildfire in July of 2022, Slovenia committed to promptly build a dedicated aerial fire-fighting fleet that would rely on four brand-new 3,104-liter capacity Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss planes, Slovenian defense minister Marjan Šarec said on 17 April 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).

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 did not possess the proper aerial means for fighting wildfires.

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. is the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of the AT-802 plane.

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, training of Slovenian 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.

Slovenia’s program for the establishment of aerial firefighting capabilities was approved at a government session held in Ljubljana on January 30th, 2023. 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 two 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 are part 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 have been built since 1992, and this aircraft is now a fire-fighting standard for most wildfires-prone countries. It has already seen service with 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 Albania and Bosnia-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 a record 50 ATE-owned/controlled AT-802 planes expected to operate this year in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Germany, France, Cyprus and Saudi Arabia.

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