Aerial Firefighting: A Vital and Indispensable Component of Fighting Wildfire

If you are in the aerial firefighting industry, you might have heard of a new trade association launched in 2022: the United Aerial Firefighters Association (UAFA). The UAFA is the only trade association dedicated to aerial firefighting, with a mission to promote safety, effectiveness, innovation, and collaboration in the aerial firefighting community. The UAFA also aims to inform policymakers and legislators about the primary issues concerning aerial wildland firefighting, which is becoming more critical and complex due to the increasing worldwide wildfire challenges.

As wildland firefighting has become more complex, there has been more emphasis on aerial resources. The recent lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over the use of fire retardant sparked a heated debate about the environmental impacts and efficacy of this vital firefighting tool and its use by aircraft. The world is seeing more flight hours, retardants, and aviation use. This increased use has shown the criticality of aviation resources and the long-term need to plan for the entire aerial wildland firefighting Industry.

The UAFA has a vision for the future of aerial firefighting: to be recognized as a vital and indispensable part of wildfire management. To achieve this vision, the UAFA has set three goals: to foster and enhance communication and collaboration among firefighting organizations, industry, and other stakeholders; to work with UAFA Members and Local, State, and Federal Agencies to improve contracting processes and outcomes; and to promote the safety and effectiveness of aerial firefighting operations.

The UAFA has named several priorities for 2023 and 2024. These include:

Collaboration: The primary goal is creating opportunities for collaboration between stakeholders across agencies and industry. It aims to improve the knowledge and understanding of the industry’s business needs and challenges among the agencies that contract aerial firefighting services, such as the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Interagency Fire Center. This includes improving agencies’ knowledge of industry business needs, such as operational costs, maintenance requirements, and workforce challenges. It also involves improving congressional understanding of industry needs, such as funding stability, contract flexibility, and liability protection. Additionally, it entails improving congressional knowledge of agency challenges, such as budget constraints, resource gaps, and regulatory barriers. The UAFA plans to organize meetings, workshops, webinars, and site visits to help information exchange and dialogue among these stakeholders.

Increasing membership. The UAFA looks to expand its membership base to include more aerial firefighting operators, suppliers, customers, and supporters. It also looks to diversify its membership to reflect the variety in the aerial firefighting community in terms of size, type, location, and mission. The UAFA plans to launch a membership campaign highlighting the benefits of joining the association, such as networking, advocacy, education, and recognition.

Wildfire Commission Engagement. This involves working with agencies and Congress to plan and implement the Congressional Wildfire Commission Report. The UAFA has and will continue to work with the Wildfire Commission, so they consider the role and value of aerial firefighting in its analysis and recommendations. This will set an excellent plan to shape the future of the Aerial Wildland Fire Industry for the next 10 years or more. By having UAFA engaged with the Wildfire Commission, UAFA will be able to stand for the Aerial Fire Industry and drive the innovation needed to improve and transform the industry for the next decade.

Adding value to Membership. The UAFA plans to supply value-added services and products to its members to meet their needs and expectations. Member input will drive the development and implementation of the solutions that enhance member satisfaction and engagement. Training, data analysis, and collaboration opportunities will all be part of the value.

The UAFA welcomes anyone who shares their passion and vision for improving wildfire fighting outcomes. It invites companies who own or lease and operate aircraft, UAVs, drones, or provide aerial-delivered suppressants and retardants under contract with federal or state governmental entities for aerial firefighting services to join its membership. The UAFA also encourages companies that support the aerial firefighting industry by providing products and services along with nonprofits, state agencies, and national agencies to join its membership. An international focus will come next.

The UAFA believes that collaborating with its members and partners can make a positive difference in the aerial firefighting community and help protect lives, property, and natural resources from wildfires.

Ryan Mason
Ryan Mason
Ryan is an accomplished writer and aerial photographer that has worked in the aviation industry for over a decade before co-founding AerialFire Magazine. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Ryan is a former police officer that focuses his writing and photography efforts on para-public operations and agricultural aviation.

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