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Aviation firefighting company lands in Albuquerque

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The aerial firefighting company 10 Tanker Air Carrier has moved its corporate headquarters from southern California to the Albuquerque International Sunport.

The company, which supplies DC-10 Airtankers and flight crews to fight wildfires throughout the West, moved this month into a 7,600-square-foot facility previously owned by the former Eclipse Aviation Corp.

10 Tanker Air Carrier, which supplies DC-10 Airtankers and flight crews to fight wildfires, is relocating from Southern California to the Albuquerque international Sunport. (Courtesy of 10 Tanker Air Carrier)

10 Tanker Air Carrier, which supplies DC-10 Airtankers and flight crews to fight wildfires, is relocating from Southern California to the Albuquerque international Sunport. (Courtesy of 10 Tanker Air Carrier)

The company, now in its eighth firefighting season, relocated to be closer to fire danger zones throughout the West and Southwest, said President and CEO Rick Hatton.

“We wanted to be more centrally located because the U.S. Forest Service, our primary client, is concerned about the whole West and not just California,” Hatton told the Journal. “The dry, high desert climate and favorable weather make this a good place to work on aircraft during the off-fire season, and the tax and business environment here are favorable.”

The company currently has two airtankers, one of which is now located at the Sunport. The other will remain in service until the current fire season ends. It will arrive in Albuquerque in the spring after receiving maintenance in Michigan.

The firm is now constructing a third aircraft to enter service next year that also will be housed in Albuquerque.

During fire seasons, however, the planes may not be located here.

“We have 30 places in the West where we can operate from, so that depends on where the Forest Service wants us,” Hatton said.

Hatton and two partners originally launched 10 Tanker in 2002 to create a superior firefighting aircraft. They invested about $30 million to modernize the DC-10 and add retardant tankers to its underbelly.

Hatton said the craft’s design improves firefighting capabilities because it carries up to four times more retardant than any other tanker now flying. And, despite the extra retardant, the plane typically operates at significantly below its maximum gross takeoff weight. That, combined with the craft’s aerodynamic upgrades, provides better thrust and maneuverability in flight.

Jim Hind, the Albuquerque Aviation Department’s planning director, said New Mexico and surrounding states will benefit from 10 Tanker’s presence.

“They have a huge aircraft that carries a lot of retardant,” he said. “That’s a big benefit for our firefighting efforts.”

It also helps to increase Albuquerque’s revenue stream from nonpassenger aviation companies, something the city has been pursuing.

“That makes the airport’s financial situation much more stable, because we used to get more than 50 percent of our revenue from passenger airlines,” Hind said. “Now more than 50 percent comes from nonairline companies. That makes us less vulnerable to airline market volatility.”

About half of 10 Tanker’s 20 employees will be located in Albuquerque.

The company signed a five-year lease on the property, owned by Applegate Landing, according to Stu Sherman of Berger Briggs Real Estate Insurance Inc., who helped broker the deal.

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