Global SuperTanker Services (GST, Colorado Springs) has ceased operating of the world's only firefighting B747-400(BCF), which is also the company's only aircraft, effective immediately due to poor financial prospects, parent Alterna Capital Partners confirmed after numerous specialised media leaked information about the decision.

"Over the past three years, GSTS has made enormous strides in making the 19,000-gallon SuperTanker a valuable tool in the arsenal of the United States Forest Service Aviation, CAL FIRE and numerous states, and is operationally cash flow positive. However, the technology investment to upgrade the drop system and the B747-400 aircraft was very significant. The economics under the company’s current federal "call when needed" contract are such that the investment will take longer to realise profitability than previously expected," Managing Partner Roger Miller said.

Miller explained that the 2009 vintage Alterna subfund, which owns the B747-400(BCF), had a finite 10-year life span. As such, it would not be able to support the programme any longer.

"Alterna is actively pursuing various options, including, but not limited to, the recapitalisation of GSTS as an aerial firefighting business, the sale of GSTS to strategic or other investors and/or the sale of the aircraft as a freighter. The option to sell the aircraft as a freighter has been in part driven by the COVID-19 crisis, which has led to a significant increase in value for freighter aircraft," Miller added.

N744ST (msn 25308) was originally ordered by JAL - Japan Airlines (JL, Tokyo Haneda) as a passenger B747-400 in 1988. Delivered in 1991, it operated for the Japanese carrier until 2010. After conversion, it was converted into a freighter for Evergreen International Airlines (EZ, Marana), after which it was acquired for GSTS in 2016 and retrofitted with a pressurised tank system previously developed and installed on an Evergreen B747-100(SF).

The aircraft was under regulatory scrutiny due to identified problems with the drop system, including the retention of retardant in the system post drop and inconsistent flight profiles affecting retardant coverage. While the aircraft had continued to operate based on interim approvals thus far, the National Interagency Aviation Committee refused to issue another interim approval beyond December 31, 2020. The aircraft operated demonstration flights around Moses Lake as recently as late March 2021, Flightradar24 ADS-B data shows.

GSTS's B747-400(BCF) is by far the world's largest firefighting aircraft. Besides its core deployment in the United States, it was also contracted to fight blazes in Israel, Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico.