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Should LA spend $37 million on a firefighting plane?

Canadair Super Scooper releasing its payload of water in a demonstration at the Van Nuys Airport 9-4-2012. It can also drop fire-retardant foam.
Canadair Super Scooper releasing its payload of water in a demonstration at the Van Nuys Airport 9-4-2012. It can also drop fire-retardant foam.
Jerry Gorin

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Arguing that Southern California's fire season is now a yearlong affair, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich wants a fire-fighting airplane known as the "Super Scooper" to be available year-round.

The Canadian-designed amphibious aircraft can scoop up 1,600 gallons of water in 12 seconds from a body of water, which is dumped over large-scale wildfires. The plane doesn't need to land to re-fill itself. Currently, the county leases two Super Scoopers in the months of September-November each year.

Antonovich has asked the Board of Supervisors to consider either leasing one year-round or buying one outright. Firefighters are currently battling the 37,000-acre Sand Fire in his district without a Super Scooper.

"Fire seasons were different in the 90s and early 2000s," said Antonovich. "Today, the fire season is basically 52 weeks out of the year."

L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby told the board that five years of drought and off-season fires have lead his department to expand its number of aircraft.

"Based on the response last Friday [to the Sand Fire], we felt we had the appropriate response," he said. "The fact of the matter is a Super Scooper is an additional tool we can put into our fires."

The price tag for a Super Scooper is $37 million, according to a spokesman from Antonovich's office. In the past, the county has paid $5.5 million to lease two Super Scoopers for the autumn months. The county also pays $1,100 per hour to operate the aircraft.

"Do we buy? Do we lease? Do we get partners?" Antonovich asked. "That's a decision we have to make."

The board will decide after the L.A. County Fire Department completes a comprehensive assessment of its aircraft. Chief Osby said he expects to return to the board sometime next month with a completed report.