World's largest air tanker on the sidelines as AZ fires burn

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Stationed in southern Arizona, the converted Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet can drop nearly twice the payload of its competitors. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Stationed in southern Arizona, the converted Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet can drop nearly twice the payload of its competitors. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
James Wheeler says the air tanker has been used in Israel and Argentina. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) James Wheeler says the air tanker has been used in Israel and Argentina. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
No U.S. government certification means states like Arizona might not get federal reimbursement if they contract with Wheeler's company. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) No U.S. government certification means states like Arizona might not get federal reimbursement if they contract with Wheeler's company. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The tanker has been used in other states willing to take the financial risk, Wheeler said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The tanker has been used in other states willing to take the financial risk, Wheeler said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

It's the largest firefighting air tanker in the world.

Stationed in southern Arizona, the converted Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet can drop nearly twice the payload of its competitors.

[READ MORE: Fire season: Supertanker staged in southern Arizona]

But it won't be fighting the fires now burning near Prescott.

The owner of the massive plane says it's ready to go, but government bureaucracy is keeping his plane on the ground.

"The process that you go through with the Forest Service is not one that gets finished in a hurry," said James Wheeler.   

[READ MORE: Meet the largest fire bomber in the world]

Wheeler, the president and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, says the air tanker has been used in Israel and Argentina.

However, the U.S. Forest Service has yet to certify it.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Wildfires

That means states like Arizona might not get federal reimbursement if they contract with Wheeler's company.

The tanker has been used in other states willing to take the financial risk, Wheeler said.

He would not say how much he charges but says, "we're not cheap."

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, recently toured Wheeler's company after hearing about the long certification process.

"Our firefighters put their lives on the line to protect our homes, land, and families, and they deserve to have the best, most innovative tools at their disposal so they can do their jobs safety and efficiently,” Sinema said in a written statement.

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Dennis WlechVeteran political reporter Dennis Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona.

Dennis Welch
Political Editor

Before making the move to television, Welch wrote and edited for the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California. Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona and his addition means 3TV will provide a stronger, more robust political presence in Arizona. He joins 3TV from the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California.

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