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Key bushfire airport’s weak runway to be upgraded

written by Hannah Dowling | November 6, 2020

A snapshot of Tumut Aerodrome (Tumut Aero Club)

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.

Tumut Aiport Bidgee
Cr John Larter has been advocating for necessary upgrades to Tumut Aerodrome (pictured) to assist firefighting and aeromedical services (Bidgee/WikiCommons)

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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Comments (8)

  • AgentGerko


    I remember when there used to be scheduled services from Sydney to Tumut, first with Southern Cross Airways and then with Waratah Air.

  • Congratulations to the Snowy Valley Council for their absolutely positive attitude with their regional airport at Tumut. Well done. Councillors are a credit to their constituents and recognising the importance of the regional airport at Tumut. You are an excellent example of how Local Government can work with both State and Federal Government. I look forward in visiting you. You have deservedly put our Central Coast Council to absolute shame!!

  • AlanH


    Not before time, if only for the RFDS let alone the RFS. By the way, a CL-415 doesn’t need an airport, just 1.5km of clear waterways, of which there are plenty in that region of the country with all the dams and lakes associated with the Snowy Hydro complex.

  • Greg Lawrie


    Should be a total revamp and upgrade to all airfields every where in key spots no matter what the cost. Lives including our fauna, property and awesome countryside are the essentials, not money.

  • Scott


    So many country aerodromes exist today because there was a pressing need during the war to train pilots, Cootamundra, Wagga and Temora come to mind. At t atime of crisis this infrastructure came into being and has largely not been seen as critical infrastructure that it so rightly is in our large country where air-travel, aero medical, evac and fire fighting are stretched beyond their capabilities so regularly in our sunburnt country. This is a great result for Tumut, Canberra and surrounding areas..

  • Td


    Suggest the infrastructure be upgraded to include self contained solar power/batteries for comms, fuel/water pumps, lighting etc so it is a fully capable self contained off grid airport facility for all emergency services with extra off strip parking to reduce runway infringement issues. Then it ll be a useful caveat free facility for operations. Could also be used as a “template” for creating/ upgrading other strips in the key fire areas for the future.

  • Mac Carter


    Finally a serious upgrade from mid 1960’s standards to bring this vital airport into the twenty first century.
    I am a former resident of Tumut and can recall when the “New Tumut Airport” was established at it’s current location, a major improvement from the previous grass runway airfield located in a cow paddock closer to town.
    I also recall my lifesaving flight from that grass runway airfield following a serious farm tractor accident.
    My most sincere thanks to the two pilots of the small Cessna for their professional service on that dark night.
    It appears that it has taken almost sixty years and a major fire disaster for the authorities vested with the responsibility for provision of adequate rural infrastructure to act.
    About Time.
    A major improvement for the RFDS and the safety of the Tumut residents.

  • What great news! Too often, medical emergency flights need to land in Wagga and travel by road ambulance to Tumut. An airport unable to be used at night or in instrument conditions is seriously compromised. All airports and/or medical helipads at hospitals throughout Australia should be reached via IFR routes (low level for RW), and accessed by a GPS-based approach. This modest improvement in infrastructure will help to compensate the inequities in access to acute medical which worsens across remote and rural Australia as each year goes by.

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