Aviation Operations Chapter 16 Aviation Operations/Resources Purpose and Scope

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Aviation Operations Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Aviation Operations/Resources
Purpose and Scope

Aviation resources are one of a number of tools available to accomplish fire related land management objectives.

Aviation use must be prioritized based on management objectives and probability of success.
The effect of aviation resources on a fire is directly proportional to the speed at which the resource(s) can initially engage the fire, the effective capacity of the aircraft, and the deployment of ground resources.
These factors are magnified by flexibility in prioritization, mobility, positioning, and utilization of the versatility of many types of aircraft.
Risk management is a necessary requirement for the use of any aviation resource. Risk management process must include risk to ground resources, and the risk of not performing the mission, as well as the risk to the aircrew.
Organizational Responsibilities
National Office

Aviation Management Directorate (AMD)

The Aviation Management Directorate, of the National Business Center, is responsible for the coordination of aviation policy development, aircraft acquisition, financial services, and maintenance management within the agencies of the Department of the Interior (DOI). AMD has no operational responsibility. AMD provides aviation safety program oversight, accident investigation, aircraft, pilot inspection and approval for DOI agencies.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

National Aviation Office (NAO) - NAO develops BLM policy, procedures, and standards. It also maintains functional oversight, and facilitates interagency coordination for all aviation activities. The principal goals are safety and cost-effectiveness. The NAO supports BLM aviation activities and missions. This includes fire suppression, through strategic program guidance, managing aviation programs of national scope, coordination with AMD, and interagency partners. The Fire and Aviation Directorate has the responsibility and authority, after consultation with State FMOs, for funding and acquisition of all fire aircraft, prioritizing the allocation of BLM aircraft on a Bureau wide basis, and approving State Office requests to acquire supplemental aircraft resources. Refer to BLM National Aviation Plan and Manual 9400 for aviation policy and guides. (Refer to 112 DM 12 for a list of responsibilities.)
Forest Service

The US Forest Service has responsibility for all aspects of its aviation program, including aviation policy development, aircraft acquisition, and maintenance management. In addition, the USFS has operational responsibility including development of aviation procedures and standards, as well as functional oversight of aviation assets and facilities, accident investigation, and aircraft and pilot inspection.

The National Aviation Officer (NAO) is responsible to the Director of Fire and Aviation Management (Aviation) for the management and supervision of the National Headquarters Office in Washington DC, and the detached Boise Aviation Unit. The NAO provides leadership, support and coordination for national and regional aviation programs and operations. (Refer to FSM 5704.22 for list of responsibilities.) The National Aviation Operations Officer (NAOO) reports to the NAO, and oversees the detached Boise Aviation Unit, and is responsible for all operational aspects of the aviation program.
State/Regional Office

  • BLM - State FMOs are responsible for providing oversight for aircraft hosted in their state. State FMOs have the authority and responsibility to approve, with National Office concurrence, acquisition of supplemental aircraft resources within their state. State FMOs have the authority to prioritize the allocation, pre-positioning and movement of all aircraft assigned to the BLM within their state. State Offices will coordinate with the National Office on movement of their aircraft outside of their State. A State Aviation Manager (SAM) is located in each state office. SAMs are delegated as the Contracting Officers Representative (COR) for all exclusive use aircraft hosted by their state. SAMs implement aviation program objectives and directives to support the agency mission and state objectives. A state aviation plan is required to outline the state aviation program objectives and to identify state specific policy and procedures.

  • NPS/FWS - A Regional Aviation Manager (RAM) is located in each regional office. RAMs implement aviation program objectives and directives to support the agency mission and region objectives. Several regions have additional support staff, and/or pilots assigned to support aircraft operations and to provide technical expertise. A regional aviation operations and management plan is required to outline the region’s aviation program objectives and to identify region-specific policy and procedures.

  • FS - Regional Aviation Officers (RAOs) are responsible for directing and managing Regional aviation programs in accordance with the National and Regional Aviation Management Plans, and applicable agency policy direction. (Refer to FSM 5720.47c for list of responsibilities.). RAOs report to Director of Fire and Aviation for their specific Region. Regional Aviation Safety Managers (RASMs) are responsible for aviation safety in their respective Regions, and work closely with the RAO to ensure aviation safety is an organizational priority. Most Regions have additional aviation technical experts and pilots who help manage and oversee the Regional aviation programs. Most Regions also have Aviation Maintenance Inspectors, Airtanker Program Managers, Helicopter Program Managers, Helicopter Operations Specialists, Inspector Pilots, etc.

Local Office

Some areas have interagency aviation programs that utilize an Aviation Manager for multiple units. Duties are similar as other local level managers.

  • BLM - Unit Aviation Managers (UAMs) serve as the focal point for the Unit Aviation Program by providing technical expertise and management of aviation resources to support Field Office/District programs. Field/District Offices are responsible for hosting, supporting, providing daily management, and dispatching all aircraft assigned to their unit. Field/District Offices have the authority to request additional resources; to establish priorities, and make assignments for all aircraft assigned to the BLM within their unit or zone.

  • NPS - Organizational responsibility refer to DO-60, RM-60.

  • FS - Unit Aviation Officers (UAOs)/Forest Aviation Officers (FAOs) have the responsibility for aviation activities at the local level, including aviation mission planning, safety measures, supervision, and evaluation. UAOs/FAOs assist Line Officers with risk assessment/management and cost analysis. (Refer to FSH 5709.16_10.42)

Aviation Information Resources

Aviation reference guides and aids for agency aviation management are listed for policy, guidance, and specific procedural requirements.

  • BLM - 9400 Manual Appendix 1, National Aviation Plan, State and Unit Aviation Plans (In all cases DOI policy Department Manuals [DMs], Operational Procedural Memoranda [OPMs], and BLM policy will take precedence.) IHOG, ISOG and Interagency Aerial Supervision Guide (IASG).

  • FWS - Service Manual 330-339, Aviation Management and IHOG.

  • NPS - RM-60 Aviation Management Reference Manual and IHOG & IASG.

  • FS - FSM 5700, ISMOG, FSH 5709.16 and IHOG & IASG.

Safety alerts, operational alerts, instruction memoranda, information bulletins, incident reports, and other guidance or information are issued as needed.

An up-to-date library with aviation policy and procedural references will be maintained at all permanent aviation bases, dispatch, and aviation management offices.

Aviation Safety

The USFS and the BLM have adopted Safety Management Systems (SMS) as the foundation to our aviation safety program. The four pillars of SMS are Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance and Safety Promotion. SMS is the standard for safety set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

SMS will promote the transition from the traditional approach to aviation safety which:

  • Reacts to undesirable events

  • Focused on compliance

  • Culture of blame and individual accountability

  • Addresses only know safety concerns

  • Identifies who, so we know who to punish

To the contemporary approach that is:

  • Emphasis on proactive risk management

  • Promotes a “Just” culture

  • Addresses systemic safety concerns

  • Holds the organization accountable

  • Identifies “What” so we can manage the manageable

  • Communicates the “Why” so the culture can learn from mistakes

The intent of SMS is to improve the aviation culture by increasing hazard identification, reduce risk taking behavior, learn from mistakes and correct procedures before a mishap occurs rather than after the accident.

Risk Assessment and Risk Management

The use of Risk Management will help to ensure a safe and successful operation. Risk is the probability that an event will occur. Assessing risk identifies the hazard, the associated risk, and places the hazard in relationship to the mission. A decision to conduct a mission requires weighing the risk against the benefit of the mission and deciding whether the risks are acceptable.

Aviation missions always have some degree of risk. The four sources of hazards are methods, medium, man, and machine. Managing risk is a 5-step process:

  • Identify hazards associated with all specified and implied tasks for the mission.

  • Assess hazards to determine potential of occurrence and severity of consequences.

  • Develop controls to mitigate or remove risk, and make decisions based on accepting the least risk for the best benefit.

  • Implement controls - (1) education controls, (2) physical controls, and (3) avoidance controls.

  • S
    upervise and Evaluate - enforce standards and continuously re-evaluate their effectiveness in reducing or removing risk. Ensure that controls are communicated, implemented, and enforced.

Aviation Safety Support

During high levels of aviation activity it is advisable to request a Safety and Technical Assistance Team (STAT). A STAT’s purpose is to assist and review helicopter and/or fixed wing operations on wildland fires. They should be requested through the agency chain of command and operate under a Delegation of Authority from the appropriate State/Regional Aviation Manager(s) or Multi Agency Coordinating Group. Formal written reports will be provided to the appropriate manager(s) as outlined at the in-brief. A team should consist of the following:

  • Aviation Safety Manager

  • Operations Specialist (helicopter and/or fixed wing)

  • Pilot Inspector

  • Maintenance Inspector (optional)

  • Avionics Inspector (optional)

Military or National Guard Aircraft and Pilots

The Military Use Handbook (NFES 2175) will be used when planning or conducting aviation operations involving regular military aircraft. Ordering military resources is done through National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC); National Guard resources are utilized through local or state Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Aviation Safety Briefing

Every passenger must receive a briefing prior to each flight. The briefing is the responsibility of the Pilot in Command (PIC) but may be conducted by the pilot, flight manager, helicopter manager, fixed-wing base manager, or an individual with the required training to conduct an aviation safety briefing. The pilot should also receive a mission briefing from the government aircraft manager Refer to the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG) and IHOG Chapter 10.

Aviation Hazard

An aviation hazard is any condition, act, or circumstance that compromises the safety of personnel engaged in aviation operations. Pilots, flight crew personnel, aviation managers, incident air operations personnel, and passengers are responsible for hazard identification and mitigation. Aviation hazards may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Deviations from policy, procedures, regulations, and instructions.

  • Improper hazardous materials handling and/or transport.

  • Airspace conflicts/flight following deviation.

  • Deviation from planned operations.

  • Failure to utilize PPE or Aviation Life Support Equipment (ALSE).

  • Failure to meet qualification standards or training requirements

  • Extreme environmental conditions.

  • Improper ground operations.

  • Improper pilot procedures.

  • Fuel contamination.

  • Unsafe actions by pilot, air crew, passengers, or support personnel.

Aviation hazards also exist in the form of wires, low-flying aircraft, and obstacles protruding beyond normal surface features. Each office will post, maintain, and annually update a “Known Aerial Hazard Map” for the local geographic area where aircraft are operated, regardless of agency jurisdiction. This map will be posted and used to brief flight crews. Unit Aviation Managers are responsible for ensuring the development and updating of Known Aerial; Hazard Maps (IHOG Ch 3.V.J.1.c page 3-20)

Aerial Applications of Wildland Fire Chemical Safety

Chapter 12 contains information concerning the aerial application of wildland fire chemicals.


The Department of the Interior (DOI) and the US Forest Service (FS) have an incident/hazard reporting form called The Aviation Safety Communiqué (SAFECOM). The database, available at https://www.safecom.gov/ fulfills the Aviation Mishap Information System (AMIS) requirements for aviation mishap reporting for the DOI agencies and the US Forest Service. Categories of reports include: Accidents, Airspace, Hazards, Incidents, Maintenance, Mishap Prevention and Kudos. The system uses the SAFECOM Form OAS-34 or FS-5700-14 to report any condition, observation, act, maintenance problem, or circumstance with personnel or aircraft that has the potential to cause an aviation-related mishap. The SAFECOM system is not intended for initiating punitive actions. Submitting a SAFECOM is not a substitute for "on-the-spot" correction(s) to a safety concern. It is a tool used to identify, document, track and correct safety related issues. A SAFECOM does not replace the requirement for initiating an accident or incident report.

Any individual (including cooperators) with knowledge of an incident/hazard should complete a SAFECOM. The SAFECOM form should be entered directly on the internet at https://www.safecom.gov/ or can be faxed to the Department of the Interiors Aviation Management Directorate, Aviation Safety (208)433-5069 or to the Forest Service at (208) 387-5735 ATTN: SAFETY. Electronic cc copies are automatically forwarded to the National, Regional, and State and Unit Aviation Managers.
The agency with operational control of the aircraft at the time of the hazard/incident/accident is responsible for completing the SAFECOM and submitting it through agency channels.
Aircraft Incidents/Accidents

Notify FS or AMD and DOI agency Aviation Safety Managers of any aircraft mishap involving damage or injury. Use the hotline (888) 464-7427 or the most expeditious means possible. Initiate the appropriate unit Aviation Mishap Response Plan.

Aviation Assets

Typical agency aviation assets are: Helitack and Rappel crews, Smokejumpers, Large Airtankers, Single Engine Air Tankers, Water Scoopers, Helitankers, Air Attack, Aerial Supervision Modules, Lead Planes, Airtanker Bases, SEAT Bases, Helibases, Smokejumper Bases.

  • BLM - All BLM acquired aircraft, exclusive use On-Call, CWN and, Variable Term, are available to move to areas of greatest Bureau need, thereby maximizing efficiency and effectiveness. Specific authorities and responsibilities for Field/State and National Offices are outlined earlier in this chapter. Offices are expected to adhere to procedures established in the National Aviation Plan for both acquisition and use reporting.

Interagency Interim Flight and Duty Limitations

Phase 1 - Standard Flight and Duty Limitations (Abbreviated Summary)

  • Fourteen (14) hour maximum duty day

  • Eight (8) hours maximum daily flight time for mission flights

  • Ten (10) hours for point-to-point, with a two (2) pilot crew

  • Maximum cumulative flight hours of thirty-six (36) hours, up to forty-two (42) hours in six (6) days

  • Minimum of ten (10) hours uninterrupted time off (rest) between duty periods

This does not diminish the authority or obligation of any individual COR (Contracting Officer Representative) or Aviation Manager to impose shorter duty days or additional days off at any time for any flight crew members for fatigue. This is currently provided for in agency direction and contract specifications.
Interim Flight and Duty Limitations Implementation

During extended periods of a high level of flight activity or maximum 14-hour days, fatigue factors must be taken into consideration by Fire and Aviation Managers. Phase 2 and/or Phase 3 Duty Limitations will be implemented for specific Geographic Area’s Aviation resources. The minimum scope of operation should be by Geographic Area, i.e., Northwest, Great Basin, etc.

Implementation decisions will be made on a coordinated, interagency basis, involving the GACC, NICC, NMAC and National Aviation Representatives at NIFC.
Official notification of implementation should be made by the FS Regional Aviation Officer (RAO) and DOI Aviation Managers through the GACC and, for broader scope implementations, by National Aviation Management through NIFC.
Phase 2 - Interim Duty Limitations

When Phase 2 is activated, pilots shall adhere to the flight and day-off limitations prescribed in Phase 1 and the duty limitations defined under Phase 2.

Each flight crew member shall be given an additional day off each fourteen (14) day period. Crews on a twelve (12) and two (2) schedule shall have three (3) consecutive days off (11 and 3). Flight crews on six (6) and one (1) schedules shall work an alternating weekly schedule of five (5) days on, two (2) days off, then six (6) days on and one (1) day off.
Aircraft fixed daily rates and special rates, when applicable, shall continue to accrue during the extra day off. Contractors may provide additional approved crews to maximize utilization of their aircraft. All costs associated with providing the additional crew will be at the contractor’s expense, unless the additional crew is requested by the Government.
Phase 3 - Interim Duty Limitations

When Phase 3 is activated, pilots shall adhere to the flight limitations of Phase 1 (standard), the additional day off of Phase 2, and the limitations defined under Phase 3.

Flight crew members shall have a minimum of twelve (12) consecutive hours of uninterrupted rest (off duty) during each duty day cycle. The standard duty day shall be no longer than twelve (12) hours, except a crew duty day extension shall not exceed a cumulative fourteen (14) hour duty day. The next flight crew rest period shall then be adjusted to equal the extended duty day, i.e., thirteen (13) hour duty day, thirteen (13) hours rest; fourteen (14) hour duty day, fourteen (14) hours rest. Extended duty day applies only to completion of a mission. In no case may standby be extended beyond the twelve (12) hour duty day.
Double crews (two (2) complete flight crews assigned to an aircraft), augmented flight crews (an additional pilot-in-command assigned to an aircraft), and aircraft crews that work a rotating schedule, i.e., two (2) days on, one (1) day off, seven (7) days on, seven (7) days off, or twelve (12) days on, twelve (12) days off, may be exempted from Phase 2 Limitations upon verification that their scheduling and duty cycles meet or exceed the provisions of Paragraph a. of Phase 2 and Phase 1 Limitations.
Exemptions of Phase 3 provisions may be requested through the local Aviation Manager or COR, but must be approved by the FS RAO or DOI Area Aviation Manager.

Helitack crews perform suppression and support operations to accomplish fire and resource management objectives.

Organization - Crew Size

  • BLM - The standard BLM exclusive-use helitack crew is a minimum of seven personnel (PFT supervisor, long-term assistant, long-term lead, and four temporaries). BLM helicopters operated in Alaska need only be staffed with a qualified Helicopter Manager (HMGB). Exception to these minimum crew staffing standards must be exempted by the National Aviation Office.

  • NPS - Helicopter flight crew staffing may consist of an all hazard component (Fire, SAR, Law Enforcement, and EMT). The NPS regions may establish minimum crew size and standards for their exclusive use helicopter crews. The helicopter crew staffing standards must be approved by the National Aviation Office.

  • FS - Regions may establish minimum crew size and standards for their exclusive use helitack crews. Experience requirements for exclusive-use helicopter positions are listed in FSH 5109.17, Chapter 40.

Operational Procedures

The Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide (IHOG) is policy for helicopter operations.

  • FWS - IHOG does not serve as policy for natural resource missions.


The helitack crew standard is one handheld programmable multi-channel FM radio per every 2 crew persons, and one multi-channel VHF-AM programmable radio in the primary helitack crew (chase) truck. Each helitack crew (chase) vehicle will have a programmable VHF-FM mobile radio. Each permanent helibase will have a permanent programmable FM radio base station and should be provided a VHF-AM base station radio.


Dedicated vehicles with adequate storage and security will be provided for helitack crews. The required Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of the vehicle will be dependent upon the volume of equipment carried on the truck and the number of helitack crewmembers assigned to the crew.

  • BLM - Minimum vehicle configuration for a seven person crew will consist of one Class 661 Helitack Support Vehicle and one Class 156, 6-Pack pickup or Class 166 carryall.

Training and Experience Requirements

All helitack members will meet fire qualifications as prescribed by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) 310-1 and their agency manual requirements. The following chart establishes experience and training requirements for FS, BLM, NPS, and FWS Exclusive Use, Fire Helicopter Crew Positions.

Non-Exclusive Use HECM’s and HMGB’s should also meet the following currency requirements.

Exclusive Use Fire Helicopter Position Perquisites









One season 4as an Assistant Fire Helicopter Crew Supervisor,








One season as a Fire Helicopter Squad Leader,



I-200, S-200, S-215,

S-230, S-234, S-260,

S-270, S-290, S-371,





Squad Leader

One season as a Fire Helicopter Crewmember,


S-131, S-133, S-211,




Helicopter Crewmember

One season as a FFT2,

HECM Taskbook

I-100, S-130, S-190,



1 All Exclusive use Fire Helicopter positions require an arduous fitness rating.

2 Minimum experience and qualifications required prior to performing in the Exclusive use position. Each level must have met the experience requirements of the previous level(s).

3 Minimum training required to perform in the position. Each level must have met the training requirements of the previous level(s).

4 A “season” is continuous employment on a full-time wildland fire helicopter crew for a period of 90 days or more.

5 After completing S-372, must attend Interagency Helicopter Manager Workshop (RT-372) in three years and every three years thereafter.

6 Must receive S-271 or serve as S-271 instructor, once every three years.

Note: Exceptions to the above position standards and staffing levels may be granted, on a case-by-case basis by the BLM National Aviation Office, NPS Regional Office FWS Regional Office, or FS Regional Office as appropriate.

  • Some positions may be designated as COR/Alternate-COR. If so, see individual Agency COR training & currency requirements.

  • Fire Helicopter Managers (HMGB) are fully qualified to perform all the duties associated with Resource Helicopter Manager.

Helicopter Rappel & Cargo Let-Down

Any rappel or cargo let-down programs must be approved by the appropriate agency national headquarters.

  • BLM - BLM personnel involved in an Interagency Rappel Program must have SAM approval.

  • NPS - Approval is required by the National Office.

  • FS - Approval is required by the Regional Office.

All rappel and cargo let-down operations will follow the Interagency Helicopter Rappel Guide (IHRG), as policy. Any exemption to the guide must be by the program through the state/region for approval by the National Aviation Office.

Aerial Ignition

The Interagency Aerial Ignition Guide (IAIG) is policy for all aerial ignition activities.

Airtankers are a national resource. Geographic areas administering these aircraft will make them available for initial attack and extended attack fires on a priority basis. All airtanker services are obtained through the contracting process (except the MAFFS, which are military aviation assets and used to supplement the contract fleet when needed).

For aviation safety and policy concerning wildland fire chemicals see chapter 12 (Wildland Fire Chemical Policy and Use)
Airtankers are operated by commercial vendors in accordance with FAR Part 137. The management of Large Airtankers is governed by:

  • BLM - The requirements of the DM’ and BLM Manual 9400

  • FS - Forest Service operates Large Airtankers under FSM 5703 and Grant of Exemption 392 as referenced in FSM 5714.


Airtanker types are distinguished by their retardant load:

  • Type 1 - 3,000 gallons

  • Type 2 - 1,800 to 2,999 gallons

  • Type 3 - 800 to 1,799 gallons

  • Type 4 - 799 gallons (single engine airtankers)

Airtanker Base Operations

Certain parameters for the operation of airtankers are agency-specific. For dispatch procedures, limitations, and times, refer to geographic area mobilization guides and the Interagency Airtanker Base Operations Guide (IATBOG).

Airtanker Base Personnel

There is identified training for the positions at airtanker bases; the IATBOG contains a chart of required training for each position. It is critical that reload bases are prepared and staffed during periods of moderate or high fire activity at the base. All personnel conducting airtanker base operations should review the IATBOG and have it available.

Startup/Cutoff Time for Multi Engine Airtankers

These limitations apply to the time the aircraft arrives over the fire.

  • Normally airtankers shall be dispatched to arrive over the fire not earlier than 30 minutes after official sunrise and not later than 30 minutes before official sunset.

  • Airtankers may be dispatched to arrive over a fire as early as 30 minutes prior to official sunrise, or 30 minutes after official sunset, provided:

  • A qualified ATGS, ASM1, or ATCO is on the scene; and

  • Has determined visibility and other safety factors are suitable for dropping retardant; and

  • Notifies the appropriate dispatcher of this determination.

  • An airtanker, crewed by an initial attack-rated captain, may be dispatched to arrive over a fire without aerial supervision provided the airtanker’s arrival and drop activities are conducted between 30 minutes after official sunrise and 30 minutes before official sunset in the lower 48 states. In Alaska, an airtanker pilot will not drop retardant during periods outside civil twilight.

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