South Australia-based aviation group Aerotech has purchased two ex-US military Black Hawks UH-60s to undertake firefighting missions around the country.
The business said it has yet to secure a contract with a government fire agency for their use and bought the pair entirely on spec.
Aerotech managing director Sam McCabe said Black Hawks are fast, reliable and can drop more than 4,000 litres of water per load to contain fires quickly.
“Our helicopters will remain in Australia all year round,” said McCabe. “This responds to a key finding of the recent bushfire royal commission that state and federal governments should develop an Australian sovereign aerial fleet comprising ‘Large Type 1 Helicopters’ such as the Black Hawk.
“It also overcomes the issue of relying on northern-hemisphere based Type 1 helicopters, which is becoming more problematic as the length of the bushfire season is getting longer in both hemispheres, therefore making it difficult for Australia to access these additional resources from overseas in shoulder periods.”
Last year’s bushfire royal commission warned in its initial report that Australia had become too reliant on firefighting aircraft loaned from other countries – and warned longer seasons worldwide may make it harder to obtain aircraft in future.
Black Hawks make ideal firefighting aircraft because of their ability to fly in most conditions and at night.
The particular models bought by Aerotech can also be airborne in less than five minutes and fly at 300km/h, making it ideal to reach fires before they get out of control.
It follows another investigation last year by former senior fire and emergency service leaders, which argued the country needs to radically change its bushfire strategy to concentrate on extinguishing blazes when they’re still small.
The investigation, written by the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) group, argued Australia must invest in automated sensors that can allow for the immediate deployment of firefighting aircraft.
“This is a major change in our approach and requires significant investment in early detection and rapidly deployable aerial and ground firefighting forces,” the report argued.
Australia’s current fire-fighting aircraft fleet includes water-bombing fixed wing aircraft alongside Erickson air-cranes that the Victorian government loans from the US during bushfire season.
Aerotech itself was formed in 1968 and also specialises in controlled burning, film and television, off shore/over water operations and executive charter.
The business employs 70 South Australians and has a fleet of 25 fixed wing and 10 helicopters, and its head office is based at Parafield Airport.
In 2016, it spent $1.5 million developing the Claremont base at Brutunga, near Woodside, in the fire-prone hills.