What are the latest innovations in aerial firefighting that you are currently utilizing and developing?
Aerial firefighting operators are running at the nexus of two highly complex environments: low-level flying and wildfires – and because we’re operating at the junction of those two environments, we have to gain control, and we have to turn what is a resilient, chaotic situation into something that’s controllable. Or at least being able to manage it so that we protect life if nothing else.
TracPlus research reveals that many operators are often using standalone siloed solutions that don’t ‘talk’ to each other and often require data from one system to be manually entered into another. This is laborious, time consuming and an inefficient use of precious resources.
We are currently innovating the way our customers work with various solutions and the TracPlus platform provides the ‘glue’ to deliver vastly improved outcomes. Our platform enables the seamless integration of innovations in firefighting such as the AFDAU-T1 device.
This device was designed to meet the National Aerial Firefighting Centre of Australia's (NAFC) OPS-14 standards for data collection and reporting. The AFDAU-T1 is the first automatic bucket calibration and digital data collection tool for aerial firefighters. It offers unique benefits that improve efficiency and capability for rotary and fixed-wing operators. For rotary aircraft, AFDAU-T1 removes the need for manual calibration/recalibration of a bucket, meaning that no pilot interaction is required, even when swapping buckets in a slung load configuration. For fixed-wing operators, the device automatically and accurately detects operational data for accurate reporting – including proof of substantive flow from a hopper.
Meanwhile, on the ground, operators experience a much faster, more accurate, automated billing process that once again reduces the manual overhead they’d otherwise be spending time on.
What is your proudest achievement in aerial firefighting to date and what innovation(s) assisted with this?
We are seeing many challenges come to life with the increase in ferocity and duration of fire seasons. At the same time, legislation is intersecting in an attempt to promote better safety measures. Because of this, technology needs to be an enabler, not an inhibitor. It needs to support how we work.
Good technology should allow you to interact with multiple parties (agencies, operators, volunteers) in unison, and work within a single view of the truth. It should also enable you to capture good-quality data that can provide superior insights and outcomes.
One of TracPlus’ proudest achievements to date would be the integration of 28 different tracking systems into a single common operating platform for the Australian National Aerial Firefighting Centre. The TracPlus solution brings together hundreds of aircraft and vehicles on different platforms and enables a common platform for the agency to be able to better dispatch and manage assets that respond to wildfires. This allows the agency and operators to have omnipresent awareness of their assets location, what they are doing, and what needs to be done. This situational awareness provides useful data that enables more informed decision making. And making evidence-based decisions is crucial, because operating on gut feeling is simply not viable when there are lives at stake.
The innovation of this system has been so successful that we have been able to duplicate the same approach across international markets and offer the same comprehensive benefits to other agencies around the world.
What do you think the future of aerial firefighting looks like?
We believe that information is not useful unless it is providing you with enhanced decision making, and this is where the power of software is coming into play. As we progress into the future, we are seeing technology constantly evolving. What we’re seeing is a trend away from a monolithic-style device where you’ve got a single box that does everything, and more towards an integrated and modular approach where the different devices specialize in delivering focused parts of a wider solution.
Particularly in devices like the Trotter Datavault and Airborne Mission System’s AFDAU-T1, where the migration of these devices from analog to digital means that customers no longer have to calibrate devices to get information flows, and the data capture is driven automatically without manual intervention. For operators, this process extends the life of their assets, mitigating the risk of having to pull them out and replace them every couple of years. As requirements change, you can add modular components for the likes of those requirements, rather than having to change the entire unit. So, it’s really an evolution away from the single box that does everything and more towards little boxes that specialize in little things that play really well together and integrate nicely.
It’s not only the hardware, but also the TracPlus software system that has changed greatly over time since its beginning 15 years ago. Originally, we created a safety device where you could locate an asset if something went wrong. Now we’ve turned the whole system into an operational dispatch tool which uses the location data of the contracting agency to dispatch the most appropriate asset to a particular location.
All of this allows you to focus more on the actual job at hand. Preventing bushfires, saving lives, and saving communities.