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ACT acquires Bell 412SPs and Airbus H125 for bushfire season

written by Adam Thorn | January 11, 2021

The ACT has taken delivery of two Bell 412SPs from Canada and one Airbus H125 from Victoria to help during the bushfire season.

The three helicopters will be stationed at the ACT Rural Fire Service Hume helicopter base until late March with the option for an extension.

All three have been loaned from the National Aerial Firefighting Service.

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“We’re likely to see more grass fires and these assets will help us fight those fires if and when they occur,” said Emergency Services Agency deputy commissioner Ray Johnson. “We are hopeful that it doesn’t. We can make decisions through the incident management team much better and much more efficient as a result of the intel, in which we gain from that helicopter.”

The Airbus H125, VH-XXU msn 3239, is known as Firebird 100 and is owned by airline Microflite. It’s armed with “Specialist Intelligence Gathering (SIG) capabilities”, which allows it to scan for fire hostpots with infrared cameras.

Meanwhile, the two Bell 412s – named Helitak 274 (C-FWTQ RW) and Helitak 275 (C-FWTY RW) – can hold 10 passengers and are designed primarily as firebombing aircraft.

“Last bushfire season, these helicopters were invaluable and played an integral role in firefighting operations in our region,” said ACT Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman.

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The three helicopters stationed at ACT Rural Fire Service Hume compares with some 16 last year – however, there are indications this year will likely be a far less aggressive season.

The reduction comes despite the neighbouring NSW Rural Fire Service confirming in November it would improve its aerial firefighting fleet after receiving a 28 per cent increase in its funding from the state budget.

The organisation will now have access to $672.5 million with the potential for further supplementary funding depending on the strength of this year’s bushfire season.

The increase comes after the bushfire royal commission’s final report recommended Australia creates a new national aerial firefighting fleet funded by state and federal governments.

The long-awaited investigation said it had heard evidence that existing aircraft weren’t shared between states and territories last year because of the intensity and length of the ‘black summer’ bushfire season.

It also criticised the slow progress towards creating a new hazard warning system, which was first called for in 2004.

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