Padilla, Cramer Bill to Increase Aircraft for Fighting Wildfires Included in Senate Defense Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) today announced the inclusion of bipartisan legislation he introduced with Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), the Emergency Aircraft Act, in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (NDAA), released yesterday by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed. The amendment 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.

“As we grapple with increasingly catastrophic wildfires in California and across so many states in the West, I applaud the inclusion of our bill in this year’s NDAA to increase our ability to put out wildfires more quickly,” said Senator Padilla. “This legislation will expand the tools at our disposal by securing excess military aircraft to augment state and federal aerial firefighting fleets. This federal support is necessary to improve suppression efforts and get fires under control quickly, support search and rescue efforts, and 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.

“California is leading the nation with transformative investments and strategies to protect communities from catastrophic wildfire,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Expanding access to state-of-the-art firefighting aircraft is critical to bolstering our preparedness and emergency response efforts. I thank Senator Padilla for his leadership and our federal partners for their continued support to ensure California and states across the western U.S. are more prepared than ever to face this existential challenge.”

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 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.


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