Australia’s aerial firefighting fleet to include multi-use aircraft for disaster response

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“The key focus is to broaden the fleet so that it’s multi-use,” says NEMA deputy coordinator

Australia’s aerial firefighting fleet is set to expand to enhance response capabilities for natural disasters, as reported by ABC News.

The expansion aims to address the increasing pressure on the current fleet due to longer and overlapping fire seasons.

The recent federal budget allocated an additional $35 million to procure more multi-use aircraft.

A national audit is also underway to ensure that the country can meet the rising demand for such resources.

Joe Buffone, deputy coordinator general of the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), stated that the recent fire seasons highlighted the need for more versatile aircraft.

Buffone said: “The key focus is to broaden the fleet so that it’s multi-use.

‚ÄúThis means aircraft will be able to be changed around so they can do evacuation, resupply, support remote communities, and help other emergencies way beyond just fire.”

Increasing demand for aerial resources

Australia has approximately 162 aircraft contracted under the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), with about 133 being Australian owned and registered.

This fleet includes several large air tankers, 15 rotary-wing helicopters, and a mix of smaller aircraft.

The expansion is partly due to the overlapping fire seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres, increasing the demand for these resources.

Buffone emphasized the pressures on the system, saying: “We’re trying to make sure that we can actually have aircraft for aerial firefighting and for other emergencies, for longer periods of time as well.”

The expansion aims to lessen the need for the Australian Defence Force to intervene during disasters.

South Australia’s fleet enhancement

South Australia has deployed its largest-ever aerial fleet, with 31 aircraft for the current season, a number that will remain for the next four seasons.

Country Fire Service state aviation operations manager Nik Stanley highlighted the continuous evaluation of the fleet’s capabilities.

Stanley said: “We are continuously evaluating our fleet every year, looking at the capabilities that we have available, are they still suitable for us moving forward, and then also looking at what’s emerging nationally and internationally with different airframe types.”

The fleet includes a helicopter called the “multi-mission machine,” which features a side basket for extra equipment and a bucket for water drops.

Stanley added: “We just don’t look at firefighting aircraft as in dropping water, but we also look at them for the other capabilities that they’re able to do.”

International fire season overlap challenges

Competition for aerial resources between the northern and southern hemispheres is an increasing challenge.

Nik Stanley noted that traditionally, large air tankers from North America and Europe would come to Australia for its summer season.

However, Australian companies are now deploying their fixed-wing bombers to Europe, adding to the challenge of maintaining these resources.

Stanley explained: “As our season extends longer, there’s less time for maintenance for the contractors to get their aircraft ready to deploy over to Europe or North America.

And then conversely, once the season finishes in the northern hemisphere, they’ve got to get them back so they’re ready for us to commence contract when our season starts.”

IFSJ Comment

The expansion of Australia’s aerial firefighting fleet to include multi-use aircraft is a strategic response to the increasing pressures of longer and overlapping fire seasons.

By broadening the fleet’s capabilities, Australia aims to enhance its disaster response effectiveness beyond just firefighting.

This development not only addresses the immediate need for versatile aircraft but also ensures better preparedness for various types of emergencies.

The continuous evaluation of fleet capabilities, as demonstrated by South Australia’s efforts, underscores the importance of adaptability in disaster management.

The inclusion of multi-mission machines in the fleet showcases the innovative approaches being adopted to maximise the utility of available resources.

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