Supertanker approved in Colorado Springs

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - UPDATE (8/11):: The fire department confirmed Friday afternoon the Global Supertanker contract has been approved for the city of Colorado Springs. The state however, is still working on the contract.

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PREVIOUS (7/27): The U.S. Forest Service has given the Global Supertanker temporary approval to fly, potentially opening up its ability to help fight fires in Colorado.

The Forest Service is still working on a contract with the giant aircraft that's housed at the Colorado Springs Airport, but says the plane can fly in the interim.

"It's been painfully long," said Jim Wheeler, the CEO and president of Global SuperTanker. "I get frustrated, I get incredibly frustrated. I sit and watch a fire go on; I watch 63 houses burn recently in California and, you know, call me. We can help."

The U.S. Forest Service is giving the Global Supertanker a temporary green light. They have interim approval for the next 17 months to fight fires anywhere that they have a contract.

They still don't have a contract with the Supertanker because of red tape.

"They designed their contracts to be very specific without taking into consideration that there was a larger, more economical opportunity out there. They designed their contract to take as many aircraft as they can get in the 3,000-5,000 gallon range," Wheeler said.

The Supertanker is much bigger than that -- it holds nearly 20,000 gallons of retardant. It's more bang for your buck.

"If you take two of those 3,000-gallon tankers, that's about what we cost. However, we carry 19,200 gallons. So you get a lot more for your money by taking us than taking two airplanes," Wheeler said.

You don't have to pay anything until you need it.

"You see a call-when-needed contract, which is what we're looking for, costs nothing until you use it," Wheeler told 11 News. "So if you never use it, it costs you zero."

11 News has learned that the aircraft could have a contract signed with the state of Colorado within weeks. They are also working on a contract with the city of Colorado Springs. That could be done in a couple weeks, too.

Our local lawmakers have even gotten involved. Unites States Sen. Michael Bennet's office and U.S. Congressman Doug Lamborn's office reached out to the Forest Service to tell them how important the Supertanker is to Colorado.

The giant bird is sitting in California, packed and ready to go, and so is the crew, if they get a call.

"The truth of the matter is the fires are now. We need to get with the program," Wheeler added. "We need to be out there fighting fires. We are ready."