Peter Moeller, Chairman of the European Helicopter Association (EHA), which is co-hosting the event together with EASA, said: “On the European level, joint commercial rescue forces can only work if the operators, who are participating with aircraft and pilots, are paid for the general ‘stand by’ service. They cannot afford to have a helicopter in the hangar, otherwise. Here we have to find solutions, on European and national levels, which give equal chances to all our national members.”
These challenges will be tackled within the conference programme of European Rotors. Although the aerial work behind firefighting relies on almost the same concepts of operations, economic and regulative frameworks influence the flight operation quite differently in Europe. Some countries close contracts with commercial operators, others purely rely on the military or police forces to be called while capabilities of private companies would be there.
In 2019, the EU reinforced and strengthened components of its disaster risk management by upgrading the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Therefore, rescEU was founded and has the objective of enhancing both the protection of citizens from disasters and the management of emerging risks.
Marco Panigalli, Head of the unit responsible for the implementation of the rescUE program within the European Commission, explained: “The experience of the last two years shows that forest fires are not a prerogative of specific geographical areas, reminding us that such emergencies can occur anywhere. RescEU is the expression of EU solidarity and aims at strengthening the collective existing capacities to respond to overwhelming situations, as a last resort tool.”
In Spain, aerial firefighting started back in the 1980s – until today, the basic pillars to successfully extinguish forest fires from the air remain the same, said Antonio Fornieles, Pegasus Aero Group President: “You need to go to the burning frontline as fast as possible for an early evaluation, drop as much water as possible in the first moments and, if needed, get the ground specialists to the right place to deliver an agile and prompt response. The digital transformation with Information and Communication Technologies progress, facilitate and enhance those stages.”
Another affected country in the south of Europe is France. The French firefighting crews rely on big water bombing aeroplanes and rather small helicopters from the Ecureuil family, which is because ‘the use of larger rotorcraft does not allow such efficient performance’. “Even if they could carry quite many more water, the maneuvers of heavy helicopters and pumping of such volumes take too long to provide the requested swift reaction and are really not economically affordable in most of the cases”, explains Thierry Couderc, Managing Director of the French helicopters association UFH.