Eleven mayors from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) have said in a joint statement that they are ready to pay the maintenance and operating costs of the Turkish Aeronautical Association’s (THK) firefighting aircraft, which have not been in use since 2019, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.
The mayors’ move came at a time when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have come under fire due to the poor response to ongoing wildfires in the country, allowing them to spread and take a toll on wildlife and farm animals as well as residents and tourists forced to flee the blazes.
“We declare that if we can get a go-ahead from the authorities, the firefighting planes which will be made operational again by 11 metropolitan mayors will be offered for the use of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry at all times and through coordination,” the CHP mayors said in their statement issued following a meeting on the wildfires in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions.
The AKP is harshly criticized for sluggishness in responding to the fires, for failing to mobilize firefighting aircraft in sufficient quantities and for refusing to use the THK’s planes. Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli, on the other hand, said the government did not have any aircraft to fight fires but chooses instead to lease planes when needed, adding that the THK’s planes are outdated, requiring too much maintenance.
Erdoğan also claimed that the THK does not own aircraft that can be readily used in responding to the wildfires.
Although its planes had been used in firefighting for decades, the THK has been unable to participate in tenders held by the government seeking to lease firefighting aircraft over the last two years because THK firefighting planes don’t meet the aircraft requirements specified in tender protocols, Turkish media reports said.
However, THK officials told Deutsche Welle Turkish service that only $4 or $5 million is needed for the maintenance of the THK’s aircraft. Retired lieutenant general Erdoğan Karakuş, a former president of the THK, argued that the association’s planes can be used for 15 to 20 more years if they are properly maintained.
Meanwhile, İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu announced that the 11 CHP mayors will make the official application aimed at covering the maintenance and operating costs of the THK’s firefighting planes on Wednesday.
“In line with the decision taken yesterday [Tuesday] by our 11 metropolitan mayors, we have stated that our municipalities intend to cover the costs of modification, maintenance and repair of the existing planes as well as the expansion of the fleet and receive services from this fleet. We will prepare and submit our official petition to this effect today,” İmamoğlu told reporters on Wednesday.
At least nine people have died in more than 120 blazes that broke out on Turkey’s southern and western coasts last week. The flames have been fueled by scorching summer temperatures and conditions that experts say have been worsened by climate change.
Experts warn that climate change will wreak further havoc in Turkey, causing more fires and other disasters if measures to tackle the problem are not taken.