Ensuring Compliance in Wildfire Aviation: The Critical Role of Automated Flight Following

Wildfire aviation is a challenging and high-risk task that demands the utmost precision and safety at all times. The role of Automated Flight Following (AFF) has become critical in ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements, enhancing safety for pilots, and optimizing resource allocation in aerial firefighting.

This blog explains the importance of Automated Flight Following (AFF) in aerial firefighting response management, and will cover:

Understanding Automated Flight Following (AFF) in Wildfire Aviation

What is Automated Flight Following?

Automated flight following (AFF) is a powerful technology that tracks the real-time location and flight path of aircraft, using GPS-enabled devices and communication systems. This system provides a continuous communication link between the aircraft and the dispatch center, providing valuable data to support the operation of wildfire aviation response.

The use of AFF has revolutionized the way wildfire aviation operates. Before the advent of this technology, tracking the location and progress of aircraft was a time-consuming and error-prone process. Pilots would have to report their position manually, which could be difficult in remote areas with poor communication infrastructure. Dispatchers would then have to manually plot the aircraft's location on a map and estimate its progress.

With AFF, this process is now automated, providing real-time data that is accurate and reliable. This allows dispatchers to make informed decisions about the deployment of resources, ensuring that aircraft are deployed to the areas where they are most needed.

How does Automated Flight Following work in wildfire aviation?

In wildfire aviation, AFF is used to remotely monitor the location and performance of aircraft, including helicopters, air tankers, and other firefighting resources. The system uses secure GPS signals and wireless communication to transmit data, allowing dispatchers and pilots to communicate effectively and track the aircraft's progress.

When an aircraft is dispatched to a wildfire, it is equipped with a GPS-enabled device like a helicopter tracker that is linked to the AFF system, and then displayed on a common operating platform. This device constantly transmits data about the aircraft's location, altitude, speed, and other performance metrics to the dispatch center.

The dispatch center can then use this data to track the aircraft's progress, monitor its fuel consumption, and make decisions about when to deploy additional resources. This real-time data allows dispatchers to make informed decisions about aerial firefighting tracking and the deployment of resources, ensuring that aircraft are deployed to the areas where they are most needed.

Overall, AFF is a critical technology for wildfire aviation, providing real-time data that allows dispatchers to make informed decisions about the deployment of resources. This technology has revolutionized the way wildfire aviation response operates, making it more efficient and effective.


The Importance of Compliance in Wildfire Aviation

Wildfire aviation plays a crucial role in fighting forest fires, protecting lives, and preserving the environment. However, the nature of this work is inherently dangerous, and safety must always be the top priority. One way to ensure safety is through compliance with regulatory requirements, which are designed to minimize risks and maximize efficiency. Some of the regulatory bodies which control this include the United States Forest Service (USFS aerial fire compliance) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Regulatory Requirements for Wildfire Aviation

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for regulating all aspects of aviation in the United States, including wildfire aviation. The FAA has established strict safety standards that all wildfire aviation operators must follow. These standards cover everything from pilot training and aircraft maintenance to equipment requirements and operational procedures.

One of the most important requirements is the use of AFF systems (Automatic Flight Following) for tracking and monitoring firefighting aircraft. AFF systems provide real-time information about the location, altitude, speed, and direction of aircraft, which is essential for coordinating firefighting efforts and ensuring the safety of personnel on the ground.

In addition to FAA regulations, wildfire aviation operators must also comply with state and local laws, as well as industry standards and best practices. For example, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) has established guidelines for aerial firefighting operations, which cover topics such as aircraft selection, crew coordination, and communication protocols. The US Forest Service has also introduced regulations surrounding the need for Additional Telemetry Unit (ATU) compliance, to record event data such as bucket fill/drop volume.

Consequences of non-compliance

Non-compliance with regulatory requirements can have serious consequences for wildfire aviation operators. The FAA has the authority to impose fines, penalties, and even the suspension of operations for violations of safety regulations. These penalties can be significant, ranging from thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the severity of the violation.

However, the consequences of non-compliance go beyond financial penalties. Failure to meet safety standards can have significant safety implications, potentially leading to accidents and the loss of valuable resources. For example, a pilot who is not properly trained or equipped may not be able to navigate through hazardous terrain or respond effectively to changing weather conditions. Similarly, an aircraft that is not properly maintained or equipped may be more prone to mechanical failures or other malfunctions.

Furthermore, non-compliance can damage the reputation of wildfire aviation operators, which can have long-term consequences for their business. Customers and stakeholders may lose confidence in the operator's ability to provide safe and reliable services, which can lead to a loss of contracts and revenue.

In conclusion, compliance with regulatory requirements is critical to ensuring the safety and efficiency of wildfire aviation. By following established safety standards and best practices, operators can minimize risks, protect lives and property, and maintain their reputation as trusted providers of essential services.


Benefits of Implementing AFF in Wildfire Aviation

Enhanced safety for pilots and ground crews

AFF provides real-time situational awareness to pilots, dispatchers, and ground crews, allowing them to make informed decisions and avoid potential hazards. The system can enable pilots to quickly respond to changing conditions, while providing crucial data to ground crews to ensure a coordinated response.

Improved efficiency and resource allocation

By providing a real-time overview of available aircraft and firefighting resources, AFF can optimize resource allocation and reduce response time. This technology allows operational managers and dispatchers to make data-driven decisions, ensuring that the right resources are dispatched to the right location at the right time.

Real-time data and decision-making support

The real-time data provided by AFF can allow authorities to quickly and effectively monitor wildfire incidents, making data-driven decisions and deploying the right resources to address the evolving situation. This technology can also provide valuable insights into the efficacy of firefighting strategies and inform future planning and operational efforts.


Challenges and Solutions in AFF Implementation

Technical and infrastructure considerations

Successful implementation of AFF requires a robust and comprehensive infrastructure, including GPS-enabled devices, wireless communication networks, and secure data storage systems. These technical requirements can pose significant challenges, requiring extensive planning, financial investment, and ongoing maintenance.

Training and adoption by wildfire aviation personnel

The successful adoption of AFF also requires comprehensive training and buy-in from wildfire aviation personnel, including pilots, dispatchers, and ground crews. Effective training programs can ensure that staff members understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology, and can use it to enhance safety and response efforts effectively.

Addressing privacy and data security concerns

As with any technology that collects and transmits sensitive data, AFF raises privacy and data security concerns. Implementing appropriate security measures, such as data encryption, access controls, and secure data transmission protocols, can mitigate these risks and ensure the integrity of the system.



Automated flight following (AFF) is a critical technology in the wildfire aviation industry. Implementing AFF systems can help wildfire aviation operators achieve regulatory compliance, improve safety, optimize resource allocation, and support data-driven decision-making. However, implementing this technology entails significant challenges, including technical and infrastructure requirements, effective training, and data security considerations. By addressing these challenges and capitalizing on the benefits of AFF, wildfire aviation operators can enhance their operational efficiency and ensure the safety of responders and communities alike.

If you want to ensure you're remaining safe and compliant in your aerial firefighting operations, reach out to us today.

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