The Republic of Slovenia took final delivery of its first two twin-seat Fire Boss aircraft on November 24th, 2023. The aircraft arrived after conversion from their initial delivery configuration as land-based Air Tractor AT-802 firefighting planes, arriving in Ljubljana on May 9th, 2023, and June 18th, respectively. The converted aircraft are now the first fully functional float-equipped amphibian Fire Boss aircraft to work in the country.
The conversion from land-based Air Tractor AT-802’s into the more capable amphibian AT-802 Fire Boss meant equipping each aircraft with a pair of Wipline 10,000 floats, a process initiated in late September, completed in late October at Air Tractor Europe’s (ATE) EASA Part 145 Maintenance and Repair Organization (MRO) in Viver, Spain. At the same time, the first annual inspection of S5-BZR was executed at Viver.
The plane’s return to Slovenia was initiated on November 20th, departing from ATE’s Viver airport on their first leg to Menorca (Mahon). Due to bad weather, the aircraft continued their flight on November 23rd, passing through Cannes and ending the leg in Venice. On the morning of November 24th, both aircraft landed at Ljubljana International Airport for official acceptance by the Slovenian Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) subordinated Uprava Republike Slovenije za Zaščito in Reševanje (URSZR, Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for protection and rescue).
With the acceptance of the planes completed in Ljubljana on November 24th, S5-BZR was hangared on site, while S5-BZT was flown to neighboring Croatia where it will undergo its first annual inspection at the ATE-subcontracted Velika Gorica-based Zrakoplovno Tehnički Centar (ZTC, Aeronautical Technical Center) EASA Part 145 Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility.
Following the devastating Karst wildfire in July 2022, Slovenia committed to promptly building a dedicated aerial firefighting fleet that would rely on four brand-new Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss planes with an 800-gallon (3,104-liter) capacity, Slovenian defense minister Marjan Šarec said on April 17th, 2023, in Ljubljana during the ceremony signing the agreement for the acquisition of four Air Tractor aircraft from Air Tractor Europe.
“The purchase marks a new era in Slovenia’s fight against natural disasters,” said Šarec. “Ljubljana’s immediate response to the realization that the nation was not prepared with the proper means for using aerial fighting to fight wildfires was the decision to purchase the aircraft. ”
The MoD-purchased aircraft operates under civilian registration within a special aerial firefighting unit called Državna Enota za Gašenje iz Zraka (DEGZ, State Unit for Aerial Firefighting,) used within the Slovenian MoD’s URSZR.
Slovenia’s program for establishing aerial firefighting capabilities was approved at a government session held in Ljubljana in January 2023. A new dedicated national development project was then launched for the construction of aerial firefighting capabilities to be executed between 2023-2026 with a maximum of six firefighting aircraft that consists of four firm orders, of which two have already been delivered with two more scheduled for delivery and the option to purchase a further two aircraft within the agreement timeframe.
The Slovenian project is co-financed (85%) by European cohesion policy funds for 2021-2027. It focuses on the initial acquisition of four planes and establishing an OEM-backed training and logistical system that would allow URSZR planes to become part of the standard aerial firefighting fleet of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (rescEU) program. In addition to providing Slovenia with aerial firefighting capabilities, the program will assist other EU nations with wildfire support when required.
The four-strong Slovenian fleet will be completed in March 2024 with the expected arrival of two additional amphibian-configured single-seat AT-802A Fire Boss planes. If the option to acquire two more planes is implemented, Slovenia will further increase its Air Tractor fleet during or after 2025.