Missoula-based Neptune Aviation has been awarded a 5 year contract to provide maintenance services in support of up to 15 Shorts C-23B Sherpa cargo aircraft by the U.S. Forest Service.

Spokesman Kevin Condit said Neptune will be tasked with converting the former military aircraft to civilian standards.

"The Forest Service was granted a number of military aircraft known as 'Sherpas'," Condit said. "Neptune has been granted a contract to convert those aircraft to be used for multiple purposes by the Forest Service for firefighting. Once they're fully maintenanced and converted by Neptune, they'll be used for everything from smokejumping to moving manpower, equipment, supplies or whatever might be needed."

Condit said the contract means additional employment opportunities at the Neptune facility in Missoula.

"This is a five year contract, and it's worth about $5 million," he said. "We will be hiring new mechanics and new support staff as a result of this contract, so it's just really good news for the Missoula community."

Condit said Neptune Aviation will perform the inspection work scope of the first two aircraft at the Forest Service facilities in Ogden, Utah. The third Sherpa Aircraft just arrived in Missoula to begin the inspection process. Neptune plans to complete all future inspections of the Sherpa aircraft at their Missoula facilities.