The Australian Federal Government has announced that it plans to enhance its aerial firefighting fleet, after the recent bushfires highlighted that its current fleet was not sufficient – lacking heavy aircraft, it relied on North America for help, and this support was unfortunately unavailable when called upon.
As such, the government is considering developing a national aerial fleet based in Australia made up of heavy-hitting large air tankers and helicopters.
Government calls upon professionals for fleet plans
Australia does already have a national fleet of firefighting aircraft. Eighty-five per cent of the country’s firefighting air services are either owned by Australian state and territory governments or leased from the Australian commercial sector. But the remaining 15 per cent are sourced from overseas, and these are the very large air tankers, large air tankers and heavy helicopters that are capable of dropping great loads – and this is the gap in provision that Australian authorities wish to close.
Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud insisted that authorities would ‘happily’ support plans for a sovereign fleet, but they relied upon professionals in the aerial firefighting community to direct them as to exactly what was needed.
"We'll support anything that the fire commissioners come back with in terms of their determination about what that fleet of aircraft needs to be. They are the professionals,” he said.
Australia looks to purchase more aircraft
So, it seems that Australia is in the market for new firefighting aircraft, but whether it chooses to lease out or outright purchase new models will depend on the country’s funding plans.
While the aviation sector noted that leasing aircraft is more cost effective and, if expanded, would boost Australia's expertise in aerial firefighting, as it currently stands, the 80- to 90-day leases per season over three years are too short for the long-term investment in upgrading and improving fleets. Therefore, longer-term contracts would be a better option for Australia.
“It would be far more effective if local operators were given contracts on a longer-term basis because it gives us the ability to financially take onboard the costs involved, employing the experienced crews, buying the equipment,” Chief Pilot Mark Harrold told Australian current affairs program 7.30.
As the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council told 7.30, for now, Australia will likely move closer to owning 90 per cent of its aerial firefighting services.