A key airport used during the bushfire crisis is set to receive a multimillion-dollar upgrade after reports its runway was so weak firefighting aircraft couldn’t fill their tanks fully.
Australian Aviation can reveal state and federal governments will now jointly pay for Tumut in NSW to extend and strengthen its runway and upgrade its lighting system so aircraft can take off and land at night or in poor conditions.
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.
Deputy mayor John Larter, who has been an advocate for raising the necessary $12.5 million needed, said he was “ecstatic” with the “magnificent” result.
“I think it’s a really good example of what can be done when the government listens to and supports its local councils,” he said. “I hope that these upgrades for Tumut Aerodrome can be a blueprint for other regional airports and other regional councils, to access the funding and support they need too.”
The funds will be utilised to lengthen and strengthen the airport’s runways and taxiways, which will mean it can accommodate the larger and heavier aircraft used by both the Rural Fire Service and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Extending Tumut’s runway from 1,060 metres to around 1,300 metres will also mean that during future bushire seasons, Rural Fire Service water tankers can be filled to full capacity upon take-off.
Further, the airport will be fitted with a Precision Approach Path Indicator, as requested by the RFDS, making landing easier for approaching aircraft, and an additional apron is intended to be built to ease congestion during high-traffic events, such as bushfires.
Other more minor works including upgrades to draining and fencing infrastructure are also included in the funded works.
The Snowy Valleys Council will also be working with the state and federal government to upgrade the necessary infrastructure to increase water access to the aerodrome.
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Tumut Aerodrome first made headlines around Australia when it was revealed by Cr Larter that RFS water bombers were taking off from the airport with their tanks just three-quarters full, as the runway was too short and weak to allow them to take off at full capacity.
It was later revealed that the airport also had little access to running water, meaning that locals were required to cart water in from the main parts of town in order to assist water bomber aircraft to fill up, and that the lighting that was installed at Tumut 20 years ago was not to standard and never commissioned.
Tumut Airport, located in the north-western foothills of the Snowy Mountains in regional NSW, around 300 kilometres south-west of Sydney and just 80 kilometres west of Canberra, was in the prime position to fight fires not just in and around the Snowy Mountains, but crucially, also further east in Canberra.
In fact, as Cr Larter told Australian Aviation earlier this year, Tumut Airport played a critical role in the combat of raging fires in the Canberra region when access to the international airport in Canberra was unavailable, making it vital for the upgrades to be completed for future firefighting efforts.
“Imagine how many more houses and properties we could have saved if we had the capability to take off at full load?” Cr Larter said at the time.
In June, Tumut was granted $150,000 under the federal government’s Regional Airports Program to seal its taxiways and upgrade its fencing, however Cr Larter continued to advocate for Tumut’s major critical upgrades.
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