By: Sam Whittingham
In a significant development, the Republic of Slovenia recently received its first two twin-seat Fire Boss aircraft on November 24th, 2023. These aircraft underwent a transformation from their original land-based configuration as Air Tractor AT-802 firefighting planes, having arrived in Ljubljana on May 9th, 2023, and June 18th, respectively. Following the conversion, these planes now stand as the inaugural fully operational float-equipped amphibian Fire Boss aircraft in the country.
The conversion process, shifting the Air Tractor AT-802s into the more versatile amphibian AT-802 Fire Boss, involved fitting each aircraft with a pair of Wipline 10,000 floats. This intricate process commenced in late September and concluded in late October at Air Tractor Europe’s (ATE) EASA Part 145 Maintenance and Repair Organization (MRO) facility in Viver, Spain. Simultaneously, the initial annual inspection for S5-BZR was carried out at Viver.
The return journey to Slovenia commenced on November 20th, with departure from ATE’s Viver airport to Menorca (Mahon). Due to adverse weather conditions, the flight continued on November 23rd, passing through Cannes and concluding in Venice. On the morning of November 24th, both aircraft landed at Ljubljana International Airport for official acceptance by the Slovenian Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) subordinated Uprava Republike Slovenije za Zaščito in Reševanje (URSZR, Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Protection and Rescue).
Following the completion of the acceptance process on November 24th, S5-BZR was hangared on-site, while S5-BZT was flown to neighboring Croatia. There, it will undergo its initial annual inspection at the ATE-subcontracted Velika Gorica-based Zrakoplovno Tehnički Centar (ZTC, Aeronautical Technical Center) EASA Part 145 Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facility.
Slovenia’s commitment to establishing a dedicated aerial firefighting fleet traces back to the devastating Karst wildfire in July 2022. In response, the nation promptly initiated the acquisition of four Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss planes with an 800-gallon (3,104-liter) capacity. Slovenian Defense Minister Marjan Šarec, during the agreement signing ceremony on April 17th, 2023, emphasized the transformative impact of this purchase on the country’s approach to combating natural disasters.
Operating under civilian registration within the special aerial firefighting unit known as Državna Enota za Gašenje iz Zraka (DEGZ, State Unit for Aerial Firefighting), the MoD-purchased aircraft plays a vital role within the Slovenian MoD’s URSZR. Slovenia’s broader program for establishing aerial firefighting capabilities, approved in January 2023, involves a dedicated national development project scheduled for execution between 2023-2026. This initiative aims to create a maximum fleet of six firefighting aircraft, with four firm orders, two already delivered, and two more scheduled for delivery.
Financed to the tune of 85% by European cohesion policy funds for 2021-2027, the Slovenian project focuses not only on aircraft acquisition but also on establishing an OEM-backed training and logistical system. This system is designed to integrate URSZR planes into the standard aerial firefighting fleet of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (rescEU) program. Apart from enhancing Slovenia’s firefighting capabilities, this program seeks to provide wildfire support to other EU nations when needed.
The completion of the four-strong Slovenian fleet is anticipated in March 2024, with the arrival of two additional amphibian-configured single-seat AT-802A Fire Boss planes. Should the option to acquire two more planes be exercised, Slovenia stands to further bolster its Air Tractor fleet during or after 2025.