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Locals required to cart water to key bushfire airport

written by Hannah Dowling | July 3, 2020

Dunns Road bushfire
RFS crews head into the Dunns Road bushfire. (RFS Riverina Zone)

A key airport used in the aerial combat of bushfires is said to have no direct access to water, requiring locals to cart it in from the nearby town.

Tumut Airport, a key airport used by firefighters during the recent bushfire crisis, has no direct access to a water pump, meaning that locals have been required to cart water in from the nearby town to assist aerial firefighters.

The new revelation comes weeks after Australian Aviation first reported that the runway at Tumut airport in NSW was so weak, that firefighting aircraft were unable to fill their tanks to full capacity before take-off.

At the peak of the devastating Australian bushfire crisis this past summer, the Dunns Road Fire – just minutes from Tumut by air – 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 due to the raging fire.


In an exclusive interview ahead of the hotly contested Eden-Monaro by-election, Snowy Valleys deputy mayor John Larter outlined the extent of the problems at the airport, in conjunction with the troubled runway.

Cr Larter has been advocating for significant investments in upgrading the infrastructure at Tumut, with the current state of the aerodrome potentially holding aerial firefighters back.

He revealed that the airport currently has no meaningful access to water, so water bombers filling up their tanks to combat raging bushfires must wait for water to be carted in from the main parts of the small town, creating a “backlog”.

“As it currently stands, we have to tanker the water out to the airport, to be able to load the airplanes up with the water,” Cr Larter explained.

He argued that a water line would need to be installed from the town to the aerodrome, to “cut down the time it takes to get those water bombers active”.

Additionally, he stated that the aerodrome does not facilitate night landings on visual approach, despite there being means of lighting the airport and the runway.

The current available lighting at the airport was installed by locals over two decades ago, however cannot be used.

Being a community project, it was not commissioned or officially approved, and therefore cannot be utilised, meaning most aircraft are only free to land at Tumut during daylight hours.

“So we’re in a bit of a predicament, in that, there is lighting there, but it doesn’t meet standards so we can’t use it,” Cr Larter said.

Last month, Australian Aviation revealed Tumut has such a weak runway that aircraft are unable to fill their water tanks to full capacity.

Tumut Aiport Bidgee
Tumut Airport is asking for money to upgrade it’s runway to help firefighting services (Bidgee/WikiCommons)

This is due to the weight restriction limits of the airport’s runway, which is only capable of holding up to 5,700 kilograms, as well as its limited length, at just over 1,000 metres.

The airport, built in the 1960s, has not been updated to accommodate more modern, larger, heavier aircraft, according to Cr Larter. He estimates the aerodrome requires $12.5 million in upgrades to fix its most crucial issues.

To date, the government has pledged just under $153,000 to Tumut Airport in its Regional Airport Grant Program, but Cr Larter argues it’s nowhere near enough.

“Well, it’s a start, but it’s more cosmetic than anything,” he said.

For Cr Larter, the upcoming hotly contested seat in the Eden-Monaro electorate could be ‘make or break’ for the future of the Tumut aerodrome.

“I think it’s an opportune time for all the candidates to essentially advise us whether they support the project, and when are they going to provide any funding for it,” he said.

Australian Aviation’s full investigation into Tumut Airport will appear in our forthcoming digital edition. To subscribe, click here.

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Comments (4)

  • Cris Piper


    Time for the Commonwealth to do a bit of upgrading and extension for a light aircraft
    alternative to Canberra and major bushfire response point.
    With the Brindabella Rd sealed Tumut is an hour and fifteen minutes to Canberra!

  • Mac Carter


    I am a former resident of Tumut, and can recall when the Airport was relocated to it’s current location during the mid 1960’s, 1964 springs to mind. At that time ” New Tumut Airport ” was considered a giant leap forward for the users, mainly single engine cropdusters of the era, the general community as well as an active Aero Club. The runway was constructed of gravel and fully fenced for the first time, a major improvement from the former grass runway and unfenced facility, and was considered to be “First Class” for the time.
    However it would appear that no upgrading work has been undertaken since the establishment of the “New Tumut Airport”
    Regular readers of this fine publication will recall my recent comments with respect to the Tumut Airport and the lifesaving flight following my near fatal farm Tractor accident. Regional airports are essential for the preservation of life, myself am living proof.
    However, all of regional Australia has been left to wither and die with respect to essential infrastructure, including but not limited to regional Airports, due to Capital City focused Governments of all persuasions at all levels.
    The recent catastrophic fires, and the limited ability the fight same with fully loaded water bombers, should be regarded as a national disgrace and an extremely poor reflection of our political representatives inability to properly equip those vested with the responsibility to protect property and life.
    From my recollections of the immediate surrounds, there is more than adequate land available to extend the runway, there is an almost inexhaustible supply of quarry products nearby to facilitate runway strengthening , and an unlimited water supply from the nearby Tumut River. Transport of water by single tanker trailer for firefighting purposes in the twenty first century must be deemed unacceptable when there is unlimited water within very few kilometres.
    Some modest investment by Government, as well as some creative thought by authorities would overcome all the concerns at the “New Tumut Airport”

  • Gary E


    I’m very new to the aviation field having gained my PPL about 18 months ago. I constantly read about issues around the country and watch “YouTube” videos of different airfield landings etc in Australia as well as the ones I try and visit and buy a coffee or two in the local town. To say it’s sad is an understatement. When I look at what is happening in the States and the upbeat tempo and excitement of what is happening there it looks like we are doomed… Did I make a mistake and sink a bit of money into training for a local GA industry dying?? Airfields and airports that look dilapidated and with no interest by local councils & Governments (most) and upgrades that should be undertaken for the safety of pilots, owners, and communities. I wonder now did I do the right thing. Will things change? I don’t think so!

  • Joseph King


    Here is a chance for the govt, the Federal one to add some jobs to the economy and upgrade this vital infrastructure and other ones as well. Interest is at an extremely low rate so why not borrow a crap load and put it to work in Australia. The idiots screwed up the NBN so I guess true to form that will stuff this chance up as well.

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