A large air tanker (LAT) is set to arrive in Queensland in the coming weeks, as part of a new deal to prepare for the next bushfire season.
It follows recommendations made in last year’s royal commission into bushfires that Australia needed to obtain larger air tankers for dealing with rampant bushfires.
The LAT will remain in Bundaberg for four years as part of the deal between the Palaszczuk government and the Victorian government.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the tanker will be an “important weapon” in combating bushfires over the next four years.
“Right around the world, we’re seeing our climate changing. The threat of bushfires is increasing,” she said.
“This deal will ensure that our firefighters have access to this cutting-edge technology when they need it – helping to keep Queenslanders safe from the bushfire threat.”
The deal was initially announced in July, a landmark investment as typically LAT’s remain in Australia for only months at a time.
The LAT – a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400AT – will be piloted by two people, and can carry up to 10,000 litres of water for bushfire suppression.
It has a cruise speed of 670km/h, and the tanker weighs in at 31,000 kilograms.
Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Mark Ryan said the move would deliver “certainty and efficiencies”, as Queensland would no longer need to contract by a season-to-season arrangement.
“It’s important to note that the LAT will be complemented by all of the aircraft that form Australia’s national aerial fire-fighting fleet, and that includes another LAT located in New South Wales,” he said.
Aerial firefighting is one of the most efficient ways of controlling bushfires, but the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements highlighted Australia is not equipped for another ‘Black Summer’ due to its lack of LAT’s.
In a report signalling opportunities from the royal commission, aerial firefighting is said to “have large load capacity and can travel relatively long distances at speed”, which is why they are vital to bushfire management.
But Australia mostly outsources its fleet from North America, and the National Aerial Firefighting Centre – the national fleet – is yet to officially own any of the aircraft itself.
Outsourcing leads to extreme delays and higher prices, and the report said “in light of these risks, existing aerial firefighting capability and capacity arrangements require reassessment.”
This new deal is set to increase Australia’s long-term firefighting capabilities.
Member for Bundaberg Tom Smith said the chosen region makes “perfect sense” for national access.
“From its base in Bundaberg, it can reach either Proserpine in the north, the Queensland-New South Wales border in the south or Tambo in the west within one hour,” he said.