UAFA Authors Letter to Government on Retardant Testing Concerns

Following the suspension of the USFS integrated Operational Field Evaluation (iOFE) on Magnesium Chloride-based retardant last week, the United Aerial Firefighters Association authored a letter sent to multiple agency staff and congressional representatives this week, expressing the need for the USFS to urgently revisit the testing standards for new retardant certification.

The letter, written by Paul Petersen, the Executive Director of UAFA is included in this article below:

I am writing to you on behalf of the United Aerial Firefighters Association (UAFA) regarding a critical matter concerning the current process for adding new retardant products to the USFS Qualified Products List (QPL). The testing process, as it stands today, has a serious impact on the safety of the U.S. aerial firefighting fleet. 

Last week our UAFA members were informed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) that the
Integration Operational Field Evaluation (iOFE) for the new Magnesium Chloride based
retardant being evaluated was being put on hold. This came after finding the fire retardant led to “significant corrosion” on certain airtankers over just one season of usage (2023). As it must, the USFS prioritized the safety of aircraft, aerial firefighters, and the public; however, this development underscores the urgent need to reassess and update the current process for adding new products to the USFS Qualified Products List (QPL). The corrosion identified in these airtankers appears to be significant enough that one or both may be unavailable for the 2024 fire season and will need to be repaired at a considerable cost, possibly running into the millions of dollars.

The testing specifications used by the USFS to determine whether products are added to the QPL were created decades ago and were based on historical chemistry. The test protocols in the current specification were assumed to be adequate based on years of successful use of Long-Term Retardant (LTR) products in all aircraft types. Over the past few years other products passed the qualification tests and were fully qualified, only to be proven unsafe to airtankers in the field. This demonstrates the inadequacy of the current specifications, standards, and qualification process. This process must be reevaluated and rebuilt in the very near term to ensure aerial operations are safe and effective.

Fire retardant technology will continue to evolve, and new products will be introduced, and
UAFA will continue to support our industry’s innovation in the retardant industry. It is
imperative, however, that the USFS revisit and modernize its process to ensure that it
incorporates exhaustive testing protocols that accurately assess the safety and efficacy of these products, as well as the environmental impact of chemicals that have not been previously tested as a fire retardant. This will help to maintain the highest standard of safety in wildfire suppression.

As the leading voice for the aerial firefighting industry, UAFA is committed to advocating for
positive change and advancement of the industry to protect the safety of aerial firefighters and the public. As such, UAFA calls on the Forest Service to:

 Revise the retardant specification to include testing that simulates actual aerial
operations and demonstrates that fully qualified products are safe for aircraft, crews,
fire fighters and the environment.

 Place a moratorium on the testing and qualification of new retardant products until:

o The NTSB and NIST issue a final report on the damage done to the two tankers
used in the 2023 iOFE.o The retardant specification and qualification process are revised and reissued.

 Include industry, through UAFA, in the revision of the specification and determination of
critical performance and safety factors.

 Conduct all future qualification tests using a third-party laboratory.

By working together, we can prevent future incidents and safeguard the safety of our aircraft, firefighters, the public, and the environment. I urge you to consider our concerns and prioritize the reassessment of the USFS Qualified Products List process. Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I look forward to your response.


Paul Petersen
Executive Director
United Aerial Firefighters Association

AerialFire Staff
AerialFire Staff
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