Padilla, Cramer Bill to Increase Aircraft for Fighting Wildfires Included in NDAA Agreement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) announced the inclusion of their bill, the Emergency Aircraft Act, in this year’s final conferenced version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (NDAA). The legislation would remove the current cap on how many excess planes the Department of Defense (DoD) can transfer to other federal agencies and allow the transfer of aircraft to states for emergency response and wildfire suppression purposes. The final NDAA agreement is expected to be taken up in the U.S. House of Representatives today, and in the U.S. Senate soon after.

“Including the Emergency Aircraft Act in this year’s NDAA will improve our ability to fight increasingly catastrophic wildfires in California and across the West by growing our federal aerial firefighting fleets on the front lines of wildfires,” said Senator Padilla. “This is the culmination of months of hard work, and I am excited to see this provision included and will continue to work to bring support to our firefighting and search and rescue efforts to keep our communities safe.”

“The Emergency Aircraft Act removes arbitrary caps on the transfer of excess military aircraft to the Forest Service, states, and those on the frontline fighting fires. This is a no-brainer to aid our wildfire fighting capabilities,” said Senator Cramer.

“I want to thank Senator Padilla for his leadership and doggedness on this issue after our joint meeting with the White House and Department of Defense in July,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “This bill has the potential to be transformative for California’s efforts to protect communities from catastrophic wildfire by working in partnership with the federal government to expand access to firefighting aircraft”

Currently, DoD is allowed to transfer excess aircraft to federal agencies for wildfire suppression, but they are arbitrarily capped at transferring only seven aircraft total to each agency, and they cannot currently transfer them directly to states. As wildfire activity has exploded in the past few years, states – like California – have stepped up and greatly increased their own wildfire suppression capacity. States should also be allowed to utilize excess DoD aircraft to increase suppression capabilities, put fires out faster, and increase search and rescue capabilities.

This summer, during a meeting at the White House with top DoD and Biden Administration officials, Senator Padilla and California Governor Gavin Newsom raised the need to remove the arbitrary cap on the number of excess military aircraft that DoD may transfer at no cost to FEMA or the U.S. Forest Service for firefighting efforts. The inclusion of this amendment is the result of months of hard work since that meeting.

The amendment would:

  1. Remove the arbitrary cap (currently 7) on how many excess aircraft DoD can transfer to federal agencies for wildfire suppression efforts;
  2. Allow states to receive excess DoD aircraft;
  3. Expand the uses for these transferred aircraft from just “wildfire suppression purposes” to include purposes of “wildfire suppression, search and rescue, or emergency operations pertaining to wildfires;”
  4. Mandate an annual report from DoD to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on aircraft transferred during the previous fiscal year.