NSW buys Boeing 737 large air tanker for firefighting

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 16, 2019
A file image of the Coulson Aviation Boeing 737 Fireliner. (Coulson Aviation)
A file image of the Coulson Aviation Boeing 737 Fireliner. (Coulson Aviation)

New South Wales has signed a contract with United States-based Coulson Aviation to purchase three aircraft for firebombing duties, including a modified Boeing 737 large air tanker.

In addition to the modified 737, the contract announced by NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott on Wednesday also included two Citation V lead/intelligence aircraft.

The Minister’s statement noted the modified 737 would give the state year-round access to a large air tanker, given an increasing number of winter bushfires in recent times.

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“Last fire season there were more fires during winter than across the summer months,” Elliott said.

“The NSW Government is committed to ensuring our firefighters have the tools they need year round to help protect lives and property.”

Coulson Aviation said in a statement the 737 Fireliner, which was certified by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in as an air tanker and passenger transport in 2018, was the largest ever air tanker ever purchased by a country.

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The aircraft can carry 15,150 litres of fluid while carrying 72 passengers.

“When we started the B737 Fireliner program we set out to create a new generation of air tanker,” Coulson vice president of aviation Britton Coulson said in a statement.

“The goal was to utilize the latest SMART technology in our tanking system and create a multi-use firefighting aircraft that would create the best value for our customers.”

Coulson Aviation said it would provide all flight and maintenance personnel for the three aircraft under a 10-year operational contract.

“With this contract now in place, Coulson Aviation PTY will establish a year-round operation in NSW to support its contracts at the RAAF base in Richmond where the B737 Fireliner will be pre-positioned to support the RFS this coming July.”

The company supported the NSW Rural Fire Service with its 737 Fireliner during the 2018/19 summer fire season. It ha also operated a C-130 Hercules for firefighting duties in Australia in previous years.

NSW Rural Fire Service acting commissioner Rob Rogers said the 737 ended up being the preferred option following a review of the large and very large air tankers that had been deployed over previous fire seasons.

“This type of aircraft provides us with a fast, effective and flexible option for fighting fires year-round, and supporting firefighters on the ground,” Rogers said.

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22 Comments

  • reeves35

    says:

    Why would there ever be a need for 72 passengers to be onboard whilst the aircraft is carrying ant-fire liquids?

    • Bill

      says:

      Moving fire-fighters to the fire ground. However, that requires a runway long enough within cooee to actually be of much use.

    • Outofthecountry

      says:

      Only need when they first respond and they can transport personnel to establish a forward base, and firefighting staff, then do a fire run. They would not carry passengers while doing the fire attacks as it is unnecessary and dangerous to the passengers.

  • Marc

    says:

    @Reeves35
    Ferry fire personnel option

  • Tony

    says:

    Maybe Adventure Tourism REEVES35?

  • Albert D M

    says:

    The 72 passengers would probably be RFS crew that can de deployed on the ground…..

  • David

    says:

    Average payload of 737 is 20,000kgs less 15150 kgs for fire fighting fluid.
    Leaves 4850kgs for 72 pax +gear (67.5 kgs per pax)
    Definitely one or the other but not both.

    • iain

      says:

      David,
      I spent a bit of time with the crew whilst they were out and I seem to recall that 72 pax and and the 15 tonne retardant wasn’t a problem. (It was still waiting on cert for pax whilst in oz on it’s first tour) It is also unique in that it can be pressurised when enroute and during drop runs. The other acft (C130, DC10 or MD11???) were limited to O2 levels when carrying retardant for runs.
      Moving firefighting crew around is a big issue for the RFS and allows this acft to be used after dark when fire drops not (yet) possible.
      Interestingly the crew were quite low time on the B737 but were very experienced fire bombers. Endorsing on type was regarded as simple as compared to teaching the complexities operations of fire bombing.
      It is a beautifully engineered acft and Coulson will be churning these out for years.

  • John

    says:

    In NSW how many rural airports can accommodate this type of aircraft ,and supply the quantities of water needed?

  • Geoffrey H

    says:

    What a beautiful aircraft. Excellent news regarding the purchase by NSW Government. Used on 10 September 2019 for the peregian Beach fires on the Sunshine Coast ( QLD).

  • Brett Yuile

    says:

    I would have thought the Bombardier CL-415 or CL-515 by Viking would have been a better solution as, even though they carry less, the turn around time is much less and the transit time savings between drops could be significant.

  • Norman BROWNE

    says:

    This is one of 3 solutions

  • Evan Raftery

    says:

    Why not the BE 200? Can carry nearly same payload and scoop the water in 12 seconds and land and takeoff from water

    • Very good point. The question in many cases is finding water sources (Dams, Lakes, even Ocean) that have sufficient clearence to allow water scooping operations and that surface conditions are smooth enough to permit this. Australia is not blessed with these like the US and Canada are. However, I think there is a role for aircraft such as these.

  • Shane Robinson

    says:

    I’ve often wondered if a palletised system has been or could be developed for the C130 (and even the C17).
    I’m sure the RAAFies would love this type of task, and they could use it as leverage to get a budget increase.

  • Michael Eyre

    says:

    I was thinking exactly the same.

  • David Heath

    says:

    This thing is only lifting 50% more than the Eriksen Skycrane… and the Skycrane can such 10,000l out of a dam in 45 seconds and be back to the fire-front in no time. I fail to understand how this will be more effective, side from the duty cycle – the helicopters need more maintenance).

  • Victor Bezeruk

    says:

    The Antonov AN-32P Firekiller is a much cheaper and more flexible aircraft. Although Coulson firebomber can carry double the amount of fire retardant they are very expensive and require very long runways that rural areas cannot provide.
    The Antonov is an above wing propeller design that allows for larger propeller to create more powerful thrust for quicker lift and also for lower flight for more precise targeting and faster turnaround.
    Was there a proper and transparent tender process that gave an opportunity for all manufacturers of this type of aircraft to participate in?

    • The Russian Aircraft manufacturers have some very unique aircraft and I would hazard an opinion that these aircraft types were not considered. In addition, the Russian also have a waterborne Jet engined powered aircraft that has the ability to scoop water and drop. It would be likely that these aircraft during the manufacturing process did not obtain FAA or the European Certification which could allow the CASA to cross certify. Certainly worth following up and their acquistion costs substantially less. Just need to ensure that ongoing maintenence and spare parts are readily available which would form part of purchase considerations.

  • Noel Tucker

    says:

    There is now a B747 being modified to carry a greater load! This would also give a greater capacity to the RFS or for another State entity to consider.

  • Mike Dobson

    says:

    Globe Master, and RAA have low flying and local knowledge and aircraft that could be used at short notice.our defence helicopters and planes
    Surely Australia can train pilots in private and civil and defence force fight fires.

  • john sullivan

    says:

    now that the Australian gov’ is allowing the armed forces to be used in “emergencies”, it just seems like common sense to better utilize the equipment – instead of disposing of Blackhawks, Hercules, etc.

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