Fire season approaches with government facing flak from all sides

Media reports call it a war that “puts firefighting air support at risk”. The government insists “Portugal is more prepared than it has ever been” with “more means available, available all through the year”.

So, as we approach the summer with last year’s horrors still fresh in the nation’s minds, what is the true picture?

Right now, interior minister Eduardo Cabrita has conceded he really doesn’t know how the country will hire the 28 firefighting aircraft missing from official tallies.

Two tenders have come and gone because supply companies want more a lot more money.

In just the category for amphibian planes, Lusa reported last month that the government “admitted it would pay a maximum of €19.8 million but the only company that appeared asked for €83 million”.

In all, €60 million has been set aside for the hiring of firefighting planes and helicopters, while the companies in a position to fill the contracts are asking well over double that amount.

The situation has seen Socialist leaders accuse charter firms of “acting in the logic of cartelisation”, but that essentially is the way it has been for years (click here), and it doesn’t solve the problem.

Now there is a ‘new issue’ in the air: pitched battle with Everjets – the company in charge of the jinxed Kamov fleet.

On Wednesday this week, minister Cabrita told parliament that the government had fined Everjets €4 million for not having even half the fleet operative during last year’s fire dramas.
Said reports, he “left the possibility in the air of an eventual breaking of the (€46 million) contract with Everjets”.

The trouble with this story is that Everjets categorically denies it. The company says it has received no notification whatsoever of the fine, though it accepts that it has received notification of a €344,534 ‘penalisation’.

Civil aviation authority ANAC confirms the figure refers to ‘fines’ for having the Kamov’s inoperable “without any justifiable reason” for 224 hours since the start of the contract with the State.
This is of course does not cover the craft that have been inoperable for years, for various justified reasons.

Warning the government that it is casting aspersions on Everjets ‘good name’ , Everjets has told anyone still listening that the fuss has all been designed to deflect attention from the “State’s erroneous decision to close the Ponte de Sor hanger (where the six grounded helicopters are sitting in various states of flight-unworthiness) and expel Russian maintenance teams” (click here).

The bottom line, as always, is that the Kamov fleet that has already cost the country well over €348 million may not be operable in any form in time for the fire season.

But as the State news agency has been at pains to stress, “independent of the controversies and difficulties, Eduardo Cabrita has guaranteed that “Portugal is more prepared than it has ever been to combat wildfires” this summer.

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Photo: Two Kamov’s waiting for parts and repairs in hanger in Ponte de Sor back in 2014.