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.
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.