by Igor Bozinovski
On March 20th, 2017, Air Tractor Inc., the world’s leading manufacturer of agricultural aircraft completed the production and rolled out at its Olney, Texas-based factory, the 700th version of its famous aircraft, the Air Tractor AT-802. This significant milestone has been reached 25 years after the Type Certificate A19SW was granted to Air Tractor Inc. by the Federal Aviation Administration with the AT-802 accumulating an average annual delivery of 28 units since 1992.
The newest AT-802, serial number 802A-0700, is a single-seat AT-802A configuration. After flight tests and granted all necessary documents, the aircraft will be flown across the Atlantic Ocean to its owner, Air Tractor’s long-time dealer for Europe, Africa and Middle East – the Spanish, Valencia-based company Air Tractor Europe. ”We are proud to be partner with Air Tractor Inc. and honored to receive its 700th AT-802,” said Vicente Huerta Dominguez, Jr., owner and CEO of Air Tractor Europe.
“The delivery of this aircraft is all the more significant, as it reminds me of the time when in late 1994 I was in Olney and negotiated the procurement of the initial two 802s that I needed for my firefighting operations in Spain. That specific event sparked the magnificent ever-growing partnership with Air Tractor that expanded in October 1996 when Air Tractor Europe was appointed exclusive distributor of Air Tractor aircraft for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Today, two decades later, I am excited to see the 700th AT-802 built, partially due to Air Tractor Europe’s enormous success in promoting the Air Tractor brand and supplying over 150 new and pre-owned Air Tractor aircraft to different customers in 13 countries worldwide. On top of this, I am very proud that we have managed to build in Spain the world’s sole, one-stop AT-802 system of excellence.”
Having inherited the agricultural aviation business that his father established in 1965, the young and visionary entrepreneur Vicente Huerta early in his business career recognized the newly-developed AT-802 agricultural aircraft would be indeed an excellent and cost-effective water-bomber. This has lead him to the decision to invest in two AT-802s (serial numbers 802-0018 and 802-0019) that he used in 1995 to promote his very own “Initial Fire Attack” program to Spanish authorities.
The program, whose primary goal was early detection of wildfires and immediate action, was based on the proven capabilities of the newly acquired aircraft, wildfire statistical data for the preceding 10 years, use of specialized software and his company existing experience in aerial firefighting operations.
The program was a resounding success – despite a dramatic 20% increase in the number of wildfires that year, the burned area was reduced by an incredible 60%. The two Air Tractor aircraft accumulated almost 1,300 flying hours in four months with an amazing over 99% dispatch reliability rate. As a result, Huerta decided to start phasing out the PZL M-18 Dromader aircraft and invest in building a completely new AT-802 fleet.
Over the years, Huerta’s business bloomed and his companies now have 150 employees and strive for continuous growth and expansion, united around one key factor – the continued success of Air Tractor AT-802 aircraft. Being the center of Huerta’s AT-802 business, Air Tractor Europe is indeed a company with a large structure ready to provide integral services for the procurement, maintenance, consulting, training and aerial operations.
Assets supporting the company’s capabilities are multidimensional and include the world’s largest AT-802 fleet with 25 firefighting aircraft and related personnel regularly, commercially leased by different government entities worldwide. It is also an EASA Part 145 maintenance, repair and overhaul facility that is specialized for line and heavy maintenance of
AT-802 aircraft and is heavily involved in securing continuous maintenance and logistical support for AT-802 fleets of different European governments. Finally, it has access to a Continuous Airworthiness and Maintenance Organization (CAMO) and the world’s sole system for training of AT-802 pilots and technical personnel. ”With AT-802 sales booming and the aircraft becoming recognized as a successful aerial firefighting platform in Spain, we realized the need of establishing of an appropriate and well organized system for education and training of AT-802 pilots and technical personnel.
Acting towards that goal and through a multi-year, step-by-step investment, we built from scratch a very unique and serious AT-802 education system. We first established an EASA Part 147 Training Center specialized in training AT-802 engineers and mechanics.
That was followed by developing from scratch a new twin-seat floats-equipped AT-802 Fire Boss aircraft for realistic SET(SEA) training of AT-802 pilots. That aircraft was then based for establishing our EASA Approved Training Organization (ATO) specialized for land and amphibious training of AT-802 flight crews. ”Finally, we are very proud to have developed from scratch the world’s sole FTD Level II flight simulator with the ability to simulate flight characteristics of both land and amphibious versions of the AT-802.
The simulator has been operational since March 2015 and has already experienced extensive use not only by our Spanish AT-802 pilots, but also by their colleagues from South Africa, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Israel, Australia, USA, Canada and other countries. It is an excellent and unique training and safety tool that can simulate firefighting scenarios and various in-flight emergencies with a level of confidence and accuracy as described in the JAR-STD-3A for flight training devices,” explains Huerta.
Being asked about his most recent business investments and the vision for the future, Vicente Huerta said, “When our long-existing facilities at Valencia international airport exhausted their potential for expansion, the company invested in construction of new premises in Paterna and Viver, both near Valencia, Spain.
The newly constructed facility in Paterna is now a reality and apart from been headquarters for all our businesses, it also houses Operations and Research & Development Departments, spare parts warehouse of nearly 600 m2 and also the specialized 300 m2 propeller workshop that separates us in Europe from our competitors. The facility in Viver, however, is still under construction, as it is much larger.
Viver is indeed our private airfield located 85 km northwest of Valencia. The construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2019 with an area of 600,000 m2 and a 1,500 x 80m runway. It will become the main hub for all our existing and future activities and firefighting operations in Spain and in the Western Mediterranean area.”
For the ultimate design and the business success of the late Leland Snow from which the AT-802 made its first flight on October 30th, 1990, the AT-802 remains the backbone for the success of Vicente Huerta’s businesses. At the same time, the PT6-powered plane remains the largest single-engine turbine aircraft in the world and the most prominent Air Tractor Inc. product that was initially developed as an agricultural aircraft, has grown and matured into a truly versatile turboprop utilized worldwide in firefighting, law-enforcement and counter-insurgency (COIN) roles. In its standard agricultural or firefighting configuration, the AT-802 uses a tricycle-type tail-wheel landing gear and is available in both AT-802A single-seat and AT-802 dual cockpit configurations.
When the airframe standard landing gear is removed and amphibious floats are installed, the aircraft is designated the name “Fire Boss”. This is a recognizable trademark for a truly capable, specialized firefighting bomber that can land on traditional runways but can also retain its ability to scoop water from rivers, lakes and open seas, as well as land there. The heavily-armed, sensors-equipped and armored COIN version comes only in a dual cockpit and standard tailwheel landing gear configuration and is designated the AT-802U.]]>