Port Alberni’s Coulson Aviation takes delivery of first Boeing 737-700 for firefighting


Coulson Aviation in Port Alberni is the largest aerial firefighting company in the world, and its fleet of choppers and planes grew by one Wednesday with the arrival of a retired Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700.

“Yeah, we’re excited,” said Coulson Aviation CEO Wayne Coulson.

“We have our first 737-700 aircraft, and we’re going to be able to build a 5000-gallon tanker, which will be the biggest in the industry, so we’re excited to get the airplane here and get started to work.”

About 200 employees came out to see the new plane, and the Sproat Lake Fire Department gave it a spray in a water salute ceremony with two fire trucks.

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Wednesday’s delivery is the first of 10 737-700s the company will buy from Southwest in the next few years.

It already uses 737-300s with a capacity of 4000 U.S. gallons, so the new fleet will have a thousand more gallons per drop.

“One of the large air tanker primary missions is initial attack, and the quicker you can get to a fire with the most payload, the best chance you have of slowing it down and allowing the ground crews to come in or stopping it,” said Coulson Aviation president and COO Britton Coulson.

“There’s no amount of money that’s too great that you can spend in the first hour of a fire starting.”

Coulson hopes to get 15 to 20 years out of the 737-700s before transitioning to the Boeing Max airplanes when they are ready to retire.

The 23-year-old plane was just flying passengers two weeks ago and has flown 4.5 million people to their destinations.

At 60,000 hours, it has only used about 60 per cent of its lifespan.

“The lifespan remaining would last us 100 years at the annual utilization that we have, so in our view, it’s a very young, very capable airplane that’s going to do a great job supporting the firefighters for years to come,” added Britton Coulson.

Two Southwest pilots and a team of technicians delivered the plane from Dallas-Forth Worth to Port Alberni.

“This airplane flew millions of people safely for years, and it’s good to see that now that it’s retiring, it’s going to another home to provide value and help humanity,” said Captain Matt Prebish.

“Well, we take a lot of pride, so we’re glad it’s going to a good home,” said Captain Jim Thal.

The Southwest technicians will remove the engines that Southwest will keep.

It will take 18 to 24 months to retrofit the plane.

Currently, Coulson’s primary contracts are in the U.S., Australia, Chile, and Argentina.

Dean Stoltz

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