A key airport used by firefighters during the recent bushfire crisis has such a weak runway that aircraft can’t fill their water tanks fully.
Snowy Valley’s deputy mayor John Larter made the revelation on Tuesday and called for funding for an upgrade to Tumut Airport in NSW.
“Imagine how many more houses and properties we could have saved if we had the capability to take off at full load?” he told the ABC.
Earlier this year, the nearby Dunns Road Fire burnt over 180,000 hectares, destroyed 100 homes and killed one man in Batlow defending his property. In Tumut itself, residents were sent texts telling them to stay indoors.
“When you’re taking off a water-bomber and you’re only able to take it off at two-thirds capacity because of runway restrictions, it’s really just not good enough,” he added.
“If they’re fair dinkum about Eden-Monaro and they want to demonstrate they’re committed to this side of the mountain, these are the sorts of things they need to build.
“At the end of the day, we haven’t had any mind-blowing infrastructure here for quite some time.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is also the MP for nearby Riverina, encouraged the council to apply for more funding.
On Monday, Deputy PM McCormack announced Tumut would receive $153,000 to seal the taxiway and apron, improve drainage and upgrade fencing as part of a government initiative.
The Dunns Road Fire also destroyed the old hospital and cannery in Batlow. All but 50 of its 1,300 residents were evacuated.
Last month, Australian Aviation revealed there were more accidents and safety incidents involving aerial firefighting aircraft in the financial year covering the last bushfire season than any in the previous 20.
The finding was obtained from part of an ATSB submission to the so-called bushfire royal commission, created in the wake of the “Black Summer” bushfire crisis.
ATSB director of transport safety, Dr Stuart Godley, said, “Aviation activity relating to aerial firefighting has increased over recent bushfire seasons.
“Further, there were two fatal aerial firefighting accidents between August 2018 and March 2020, whereas in the previous 17 years there were only three fatal accidents.”