ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – What were once passenger planes are now helping put out wildfires all over the world, and the demand for these massive air tankers is growing fast.
"What we’ve done has sort of changed the game," said John Gould, President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier.
The company moved to Albuquerque six years ago and has since gone from a one-plane company to a four-plane fleet. Gould says the need for the company is growing as wildfire seasons continue to get worse.
"They’re worse. They’re hotter fires than they were when I was a young man fighting fires. It’s a different world out there and they are using us more," said Gould.
Gould says his company has helped fight every major fire in the United States over the last several years. That includes the devastating Camp and Woolsey fires in California and the 416 and Ute Park fires in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
"Our goal is to help firefighters put out fires and we do a really good job at it," said Gould.
Gould says transforming the passenger planes into air tankers allows the planes to hold three times as much retardant as any other plane on the market.
"We can split our drops and circle a fire in five passes. Then, those firefighters have a much easier time of catching the fire in the mid-afternoon than they did if they only had a single engine air tanker or smaller air tanker," said Gould.
10 Tanker Pilot Shawn Dugan says people around the world get excited when these planes show up.
"The fact we have that much on board can make a big difference in a hurry," said Dugan.
Dugan says the high altitude in New Mexico and southern Colorado makes fire fighting more difficult.
"You have to be more intentional with your drops. Ute Park, Durango all those high altitude fires we really had to watch our engine temperatures and the way we were flying some profiles," said Dugan.
Gould says having a company like this based in Albuquerque is an asset for New Mexico and the entire southwest.
The US Forest Service does decide where they are needed most and dispatches the planes to the wost fires. Right now, 10 Tanker is gearing up for what they expect to be a busy fire season.
10 Tanker plans to add a fifth plane to its fleet within the next two years.