Province douses petition supporting Martin Mars water bomber

As thousands of people sign an online petition calling for the return to service of the Martin Mars water bomber, the largest forest-fighting tanker in the world, both the plane’s Port Alberni owner and the province say that’s not going to happen.

Chris Alemany of Port Alberni started the online petition on July 17. By Wednesday afternoon, it had the signatures of more than 17,500 people asking the province to sign the Martin Mars for five years.

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In response to chatter on social media, the province has released a statement saying the Martin Mars is less efficient and more costly than the Fire Boss amphibious airtankers contracted by the province this summer.

“Many airtankers can drop long-term fire retardant on a wildfire to slow its growth and allow ground crews to safely contain it. The Martin Mars cannot drop long-term fire retardant, which is critical in B.C.’s terrain and firefighting conditions.”

Fire Boss airtankers can skim up to 3,025 litres of water in 15 seconds from more than 1,700 water bodies in B.C. and land at airports such as the province’s 17 airtanker bases. The Martin Mars can land on and scoop water from only 113 bodies of water, the province said.

The province is comparing apples to oranges, said Wayne Coulson, whose Coulson Group of Companies owns the Martin Mars. “I think what people are saying is if you’ve got the biggest, largest scooping aircraft in the world at 7,200 gallons, why don’t we have that, too?” Coulson said. “I don’t understand why the government wants to compare the Mars to single-engine airtankers, because we don’t do what they do and they don’t do what we do.”

The Martin Mars can protect houses from burning along the “urban interface” where homes are threatened by forest fires, he said. “The government doesn’t want the [Mars] because they believe it’s too old. That’s the issue — they should just say that.” The Mars was originally delivered to the U.S. navy in 1945. It may be an old-timer but it’s safe and is certified airworthy by Transport Canada, he said.

The Mars could return to service “if the government wanted it, but the government doesn’t want it. They told us it would be the last aircraft in Canada they would use.”

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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