Today the U.S. Forest Service awarded three companies exclusive contracts to provide seven Next Generation Airtankers for fighting forest fires. One of those companies resides close by. Nepture Avaiation CEO Ron Hooper said Missoula will supply four of the seven tankers.

"So what it means for us is the financial security of having these aircraft under firm contracts for five years, and there are five one-year option years," Hooper said. "So for us, potentially it's 10 years of contracts for these four airplanes. For Missoula, it allows us to continue to grow out here. We're trying to grow other aspects of the company out here at Neptune and this gives us the financial basis to do some of those things."

Hooper said the potential for these tankers is spread beyond just the state of Montana.

"Once the Forest Service puts them under contract, they are capable of going anywhere in the country, and they do. We've fought fire in Florida, to Minnesota, Tennessee, to Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and we were in Canada this year," Hooper said. "They go all over wherever the Forest Service dispatches them. They are capable of going overseas. This new modern jet has the capability to fly distances that the old P2Vs couldn't. So they are capable of going out of the country as well."

As Hooper previously stated, the new Forest Service contract awards are for a five-year period with options for five additional years, with at least 160 days of mandatory availability every year.