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Landing fees at SM Airport cut in half for Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service will now pay half of its landing fees. The Santa Maria Airport District Board approved the decrease Thursday night.

Fighting fires from the air is essential to any operation in the back country in Santa Barbara County. With government agencies pinching pennies, cutting some fees is welcoming news.

It cost the Forest Service $1 per 1,000 pounds to land at the airport for the last couple of years. If an air tanker weighs 100,000 pounds, it cost $100 every time one lands. That $100 can add up fast when fighting a large fire. Now, that number is cut in half.

“It makes sense in my view, and again, I am only one vote of five, to charge the Forest Service less and (to have) a more streamlined process and get more of the airplanes and more service and more airplanes here ready for fighting the fire,” said David Baskett, one of the airport directors.

The base has been in operation at the Santa Maria Airport since 2007. From 2009 and 2011, it had been downgraded to an on-call status. Since then, it has been a full-time facility.

On top of decreasing fees, Baskett is trying to have a new plane in the area fighting fires. It’s called the B-E 200. Rather than land at an airport for refilling, it scoops up water from lakes and rivers.

“It represents the only newly built air tanker, it represents the only airplane flying that was designed to be an air tanker,” said Baskett.

If the funds are still available, the B-E 200 could be there as early as this summer.

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