The New South Wales state government plans to acquire its own large air tanker (LAT), which will be the first of its kind to be permanently based in Australia.
Until now both the NSW and Victorian state governments have leased air tankers from overseas – six are currently in Australia for the 2018-19 fire season comprising one Boeing 737, two Lockheed C-130s and three Avro RJ85s.
Minister for Emergency Services Troy Grant said NSW would acquire its own LAT as well as two fixed-wing “scanning aircraft”.
“This major funding injection will fortify our fleet into the future and provide year-round long-range aerial firefighting capabilities to complement our existing aviation resources,” Grant said on November 16 (we missed the announcement at the time, but thought it still worth reporting on – Ed).
“With longer bushfire seasons comes the increasing threat of severe fires, which is why the NSW government is leading the way by providing our firies with the very best resources to help protect lives and properties.”
The LAT would also be available for other state government jurisdictions to use, Grant said.
Very proud to announce $26.3M of #nswgovernment funding to purchase a Large Air Tanker and 2 fixed wing aircraft, which will be permanently based in NSW, providing more reliability & flexibility for firefighting responses across the state. @NSWRFS @FRNSW #fireseason #firefighter pic.twitter.com/nFOQaEFLtt
— Troy Grant (@troygrant) November 16, 2018
Given the $26.3 million budget, the large air tanker is likely to be a converted secondhand aircraft, according to fireaviation.com contributor Bill Gabbert.
“I don’t see how the LAT could be new,” he wrote in a December 14 post.
But options could include a converted secondhand Bombardier Q400 turboprop, or an Avro RJ85 or Boeing 737 jet airliner.
“Coulson and Conair, both Canadian companies which are currently converting these models, would probably be happy to make a sale,” Gabbert said.
“A new C-130 or LM-100J would be out of the question at their budget. Used C-130s are difficult to find and the cost can be higher than retired airliners.”
In the meantime further leased large air tankers may be on their way to Australia for the current fire season. The federal government has announced a one-off boost of $11 million for the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to deliver “more large specialist firefighting air tankers to communities across Australia, bringing our total contribution to $25.8 million this financial year”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a December 4 statement.
The NSW LAT announcement was made while marking the arrival of the world’s first Boeing 737 firebomber in Australia.
VIDEO – the NSW Rural Fire Service marks the arrival of the 737 large air tanker Gaia for the 2018-19 fire season.
Named Gaia, the aircraft is operated by Coulson Aviation and is a converted ex-Southwest Airlines 737-300 fitted with Coulson’s RADS-XXL/2 4,000 US gallon fire retardant-dropping system. According to Coulson’s website, converting the 737 took three years and 43,000 man hours.
“The new Gaia aircraft can carry more than 15,000 litres of fire retardant to drop strategically over fire grounds as the frontline response continues, providing an invaluable support,” NSW Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
The 737 was used in action for the first time on November 22, alongside C-130 and RJ85 LATs, to fight fires near Port Stephens north of Newcastle.
“These large air tankers are incredibly effective,” NSW RFS Inspector Rolfe Poole said.
“We’ll always need boots on the ground but what this aerial support does is support those firefighters on the ground by knocking down the firefront,” Poole said, according to the Port Stephens Examiner.
“Using flame retardants from the air, we are able to get in front of the fire and slow its progress.”