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Port Alberni’s Coulson Aviation unveils latest aerial firefighting tanker

Company debuts latest converted Boeing 737 FireLiner to family first before flying it to Idaho

Family comes first for Coulson Aviation.

The world-renowned aviation company, based in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, debuted its newest aircraft—an aerial firefighting tanker converted from a Boeing 737—on Monday, July 4. The occasion was marked with a family barbecue and get-together, where company employees and their family members could gather at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport (AVRA) to view the new aircraft in its completed stage before it travels down to the United States to fight wildfires.

“We wanted to invite all the employees and their families out there to see the herculean effort amount of work that’s gone into this,” explained Britt Coulson, co-president of the Coulson Group.

Coulson said that approximately 40,000 hours of installation and maintenance have gone into the conversion of the aircraft from a Boeing 737 passenger plane to FireLiner, an aerial firefighting tanker. The tank manufacturing, he said, adds up to another 5,000 or 8,000 hours.

READ MORE: Coulson Aviation receives $3.4 million for FireLiner air tankers

“It’s very cool to be able to invite everyone’s family out and have the opportunity to see it in this condition, fully complete, before it goes down and starts fighting fire in the U.S. here in the next week,” said Coulson. “Everyone has a lot of pride in the work that they do here.”

The plane left for Boise, Idaho on July 5, where it will be certified before going on contract with the United States Forest Service by the end of the week.

Although Port Alberni has seen fairly cool temperatures so far this summer, Coulson says fire season is much more active in the U.S. right now.

“It started a little bit later this year,” he said. “There was an early batch [of fires] in March and April. Then there was a little bit of a lull, and now it’s starting to kick off again. There’s a big need and a demand for the airplane.”

READ MORE: Coulson Aviation’s Fireliners advance world’s wildfire arsenal

The plane that was debuted on July 4 is only the third FireLiner converted by Coulson Aviation, and the first of the batch to be painted in Coulson’s new livery (matching the company’s C-130s and rotary wing aircraft). The company purchased six 737s from Southwest Airlines a few years ago and recently signed a contract with Argentina’s province of Santiago del Estero to convert the fourth of the batch for firefighting efforts there. Another is in line behind that to be modified.

Coulson added that the company is working on getting some additional aircraft “in the near future.”

Coulson Aviation is getting plenty of interest in the FireLiner, which has a 4,000-gallon capacity for water or retardant. The newest aircraft will be in the U.S. until the end of November, explained Coulson Group CEO and president Wayne Coulson. After that, it goes on contract to fight fires in Australia.

“It’s a competitor to the C-130, which is the platinum aircraft in the world for firefighting,” said Wayne Coulson. “And now this one is just as comparable.”

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Visitors tour Coulson Aviation’s new 737 Fireliner at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport on July 4. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Britt Coulson (left), Co-President of Coulson Group, talks to visitors inside of the converted Fireliner on July 4, 2022. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)