DC-10 air tanker relocates to Sunport

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – As fire crews worry New Mexico’s dry winter could lead to a rough fire season, the state may now have some extra muscle fighting back as one of the biggest fire tools out there is now calling Albuquerque home.

The company that flies the giant DC-10 firefighting airplane recently moved its headquarters to the Albuquerque Sunport. That means those big planes may often be nearby when a big fire breaks out.

The DC-10 is a unique, fixed-wing air tanker that’s outfitted with the largest external fire retardant tank in service. The tanker is capable of holding 12,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in a full load. That’s five to six times more than what some of the other largest firefighting air crafts can carry.

New Mexicans have seen the technology first hand over the past few years as the U.S. Forest Service has used it to help build fire lines on the Little Bear wildfire in 2012, and the Thompson Ridge and Whites Peak wildfires in 2013.

“It brings more retardant sooner, and it’s safer because you don’t have to fly as much,” said Rick Hatton, President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Hatton’s company began moving from California to the Albuquerque Sunport in October 2013. The company says it wanted to move closer to the Rocky Mountains to gain more of a “national presence.” It chose New Mexico for a variety of reasons.

“We surveyed a number of states and found that New Mexico, in particular Albuquerque, to be very suitable. The weather is good, we can work on the airplane outside all year round, the ramp space is available,” said Hatton.

The company is also a lot closer to where there has been a lot of firefighting in recent years.

“We’ve been very effective, we’ve crossed the 1,000 mission threshold now on fires,” said Hatton.

This winter season has caused a lot of concern as well in New Mexico. The U.S. Forest Service says the next two months will be crucial in determining just how bad the fire season will be.

“We’re thirsting for precip and we will just see what the next few months bring us,” said Mary Zabinski, fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Southwest Coordination Center.

DC-10 crews say they’re ready for the season. Their contract with the U.S. Forest Service begins April 3. It calls for crews to be up in the air and heading towards a fire within 30 minutes.

“We hope to grow the company by getting more of those kinds of contracts,” said Hatton.

Two functional DC-10 tankers are available from 10 Tanker Air Carrier right now and the company is working on building a third. Hatton says all of those should be stationed in Albuquerque full time, but when fires spark, they’ll move around and work out of different states if needed.

About 20 people work for 10 Tank Air Carrier full time. The company says it also chose New Mexico because of its favorable low income tax rate, however, it didn’t get any specific tax breaks. The company’s federal contract is guaranteed for at least the next four years. After that, the U.S. Forest Service has the option to opt-in or out of the contract each year for another 5 years.

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