This year preparations of Balkan governments for the summer firefighting season 2019 again saw local Air Tractor AT-802 operators cooperating with Valencia, Spain-based Air Tractor Europe, and Avialsa T-35, supplying logistics and support services for Texas-based Air Tractor Inc. and its aircraft in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
The Republic of Croatia, the biggest operator of AT-802s in the Balkans, started the year by signing two strategic, logistical support agreements with Air Tractor Europe and allowing for the Croatian Ministry of Defence to provide the Croatian Air Force (Hrvatsko Ratno Zrakoplovstvo, HRZ) with maintenance services and access to aircraft components and systems, spare parts, consumables and technical documentation.
In a follow-on development, the Spanish companies were asked to assist in the execution of a Service Bulletin (SB) relating to Hartzell Propeller Service products that required urgent attention affecting four of the service’s HRZ AT-802 planes.
With the service bulletin work completed quickly, the aircraft fleet was able to return to service just as the firefighting season began in the Croatian summer season.
Meanwhile, in preparation for the firefighting effort, HRZ executed an extraordinary training exercise in close coordination with the Croatian Navy (Hrvatska Ratna Mornarica, HRM.) The task consisted of recovering a single-seat AT-802A Fire Boss aircraft that simulated an emergency landing in the Adriatic Sea on April 2, 2019.
In neighboring Montenegro, the activities of both Spanish companies focused on the execution of annual inspections and the overhaul of a Hartzell HC-B5MA-3DM propeller on one of nation’s three AT-802s. The aircraft, a single-seat AT-802A, registered 4O-EAB, was transferred to Avialsa T-35’s Part 145 Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) organization in Valencia early in April of this year.
While in Spain, the aircraft also received first class maintenance focusing on the overhaul of the aircraft’s Goodrich starter generator in addition to calibration of the Np, Ng, Engine oil Temperature and Pressure, and Torque indicators. Following the performance of maintenance, the aircraft returned to Montenegro where wildfires were already active, becoming a welcome addition to the Podgorica-based Montenegrin Ministry of Interior’s fleet that already had several helicopters in place as part of the nations firefighting effort.
Macedonia, just like the other two former Yugoslav nations, also relied heavily on services provided by Avialsa in the months leading up to the 2019 fire season, completing annual inspections of the Protection and Rescue Directorate (PRD) AT-802A Fire Boss fleet.
Avialsa pilots then ferried Macedonia’s three aircraft back to their home base at Skopje-Petrovec airport, where just days later, they returned to aerial firefighting, assisting in efforts fighting wildfires that threatened a large portion of the small Balkan nation.
Macedonia’s AT-802s completed a total of 120 aerial firefighting flights executed over twenty-five days in March, dropping more than 300,000 liters (almost 80,000 gallons) of water and retardant foam on raging wildfires at Skopska Crna Gora and the Galicica mountains as well as on various locations around the cities of Kumanovo, Kriva Palanka, Ohrid, Bitola, Delčevo and Kruševo.
Availsa also provides training services by way of a dedicated AT-802 A12 FTD Level 2 simulator available at the Avialsa Approved Training Organization (ATO) E-ATO-245 located at Paterna, near Valencia, Spain.
The three Balkan nations are currently operating a fleet of twelve Air Tractors AT-802s with the Croatian Air Force’s dedicated 855 Firefighting squadron operating six Air Tractor AT-802’s, a single twin-seat AT-802, twin-seat AT-802 Fire Boss amphibian, and four single-seat AT-802A Fire Boss amphibians.
The Montenegrin Ministry of Interior operates a pair of single-seat AT-802As and a twin-seat Air Tractor AT-802 while Macedonia’s PRD operates three amphibian-configured single-seat AT-802A Fire Bosses.
With a water capacity of over 3,100 liters (792 Gallons), the Air Tractor AT-802 has become a valuable asset for many small countries in Europe. Apart from Montenegro, some 80 firefighting AT-802s are now in regular use in aerial firefighting missions in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Croatia, Macedonia, Cyprus, and Israel.