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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Australia Plans Aerial Firefighting Future

By Emma Kelly

An Erickson Air-Crane dumps water over a 2009 bushfire in Victoria, Australia.

Early next year, Australia’s National Aerial Firefighting Center (NAFC) will decide on the aerial firefighting fleet that will do battle against the country’s annual bushfire threat over the next few years.

With the NAFC’s existing tenders reaching the end of their three years plus two years extension life at the end of the coming 2012/2013 fire season, a call for tenders for the national fleet for 2013/14 onward is scheduled to be released in late August or early September, according to Richard Alder, general manager of the central body that coordinates the national aerial firefighting fleet. The tenders will initially cover a three-year fire season period, with options to extend.

Australia has years of experience fighting bushfires and has determined what works best in its climate and environment. As a result, the aerial fleet under the new contracts is unlikely to be very different to what has been employed under the current ones. Australia relies on type one helicopters, classified as having an internal payload of 2,268 kg or greater and a water carrying capacity of 2,650 liters or greater; type two with an internal payload of between 1,134 kg and 2,267 kg and a water carrying capacity of 1,135-2,649 liters; type three with an internal payload of 544 kg to 1,133 kg and a water carrying capacity of between 380 and 1,134 liters; and type four—less than 544 kg internal payload and a water carrying capacity less than 380 liters.

Tenders will cover type one, two and three rotary wing services and type four fixed-wing services, as well as other specialist services. A request for proposals will also be issued this year to supply larger fixed-wing airtanker services, including very large airtankers and type one and 2 multi-engine airtankers, says the NAFC.

The new tenders come as the country prepares for the 2012/13 fire season, which will start in late August in some parts of the northeast and continue through to April in the southwest of the country.

Over the last two years, much of the country, with the exception of Western Australia (WA), has come off lightly—particularly compared to the devastating 2008/9 fire season in which more than 170 people died in the Black Saturday fires in Victoria. But Australia cannot be complacent with bushfires a constant threat in the summer months in vast areas of the country.

NAFC has yet to receive all the activity and mission figures from the states and territory for the 2011/12 fire season, but Alder says the last fire season was very similar to that of 2010/11. During that year, the national fleet of 53 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft was activated on 550-plus occasions for firefighting and made more than 4,378 drops, delivering over 7.5 million liters of water/retardant.

As in the previous year, the aerial firefighting fleet was also put to use in 2011/12 on flood recovery and storm support missions in parts of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and WA. This shows the versatility of the firefighting fleet and the sharing arrangements, says Alder.

Read the full story on the web at www.rotorandwing.com and sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Collective, at www.aviationtoday.com/rw/collective_form.html

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