Additional aircraft funding to enhance Australia’s disaster response

aerial firefighting

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Increased funding for aerial firefighting

The Australian Government will enhance Australia’s preparedness for natural disasters by funding additional aircraft to respond to fires, floods, and severe weather events, as reported by The Australian Government’s National Emergency Management Agency.

Through the 2024-25 Budget, the Government will allocate an additional $35 million over the next two years to the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), which supports national, state, and territory aircraft for fire and emergency services.

This investment aims to deliver a broader range of aerial assets, moving from specific firefighting aircraft to a mix of fixed-wing and rotary multi-use assets.

Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt, said this increased funding brings the Australian Government’s contribution to national aerial capability to approximately $48 million a year.

Expansion of aircraft capabilities

Minister Watt highlighted the importance of broadening the aircraft types: “With this investment, we are not only increasing the number of aircraft available, but also broadening the type of aircraft so they can be used for different activities such as heavy lift, transportation and evacuations and resupply operations.”

This expansion will support more Australians across various hazards and international requests for assistance, especially during overlapping high-risk weather seasons with the northern hemisphere.

Earlier this year, Australia experienced a range of disasters within weeks, including catastrophic fire conditions, severe storms in Victoria, cyclones in Northern Australia, and flooding events on the East Coast.

The increased aerial capability aims to support each community, regardless of the disaster they face.

Review and future planning

In addition to the new investment, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has been tasked with leading a comprehensive review to ensure a sustainable model for state and territory capabilities.

This review and additional funding address Recommendation 8.1 from the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

As of 31 March 2024, the fleet, delivered through a partnership between states and territories, comprises 162 aircraft, including six large fixed-wing air tankers and 15 large rotary-wing aircraft.

This fleet is supplemented by additional state-owned and state-contracted aircraft, bringing the total to more than 500 aircraft provided by over 150 operators.

Future of aerial firefighting

States and territories annually review the composition and requirements of the fleet to prepare for the high bushfire season, supported by NAFC.

The current model of leasing aircraft through NAFC, rather than purchasing an exclusive fleet, has proven cost-effective and supports the international sharing of specialised aerial firefighting capabilities.

The annual lease cost of the fleet will reach approximately $125 million in 2023-24, up from $92.1 million in 2022-23.

State and territory governments co-fund the fleet and fully fund the operational costs of the aircraft they use.

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