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Australian Firefighting Aircraft

Old 10th Sep 2019, 23:37
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Australian Firefighting Aircraft

To those in the know can you enlighten us. Why are many of the current fire fighting aircraft in Australia foreign owned and operated? It would appear mainly from the US and Canada.

Is there a reason Australian industry is unable to provide this taxpayer funded multi-million dollar service?

Capability restrictions? Hinderance from CASA? Australian government tender process?




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Old 11th Sep 2019, 04:12
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That is currently literally the million dollar question.

There are many local operators with the capability. Sitting idle at present as the contracts went overseas.

But, state governments seem determined to hire in equipment from overseas, of a type the CSIRO found to be unsuitable for local conditions back in the eighties.

Probably more to do with public perception than effectiveness. Wow factor for the evening news and all that.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 04:15
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I would suggest there are several reasons.

Firstly these aircraft typically follow the summer, and hence work in the northern hemisphere during our winter, and need to do so to achieve the return-on-investment required. It is simply easier to arrange a short-term lease of a foreign registered aircraft than to acquire an aircraft for a relatively low utilisation (notwithstanding the early commencement of fire season) program.

Secondly, aerial firefighting is a much more mature industry in North America and Europe (particularly for large air tankers), and in bringing these aircraft in from overseas we are utilising not just the physical asset (aircraft) but also the expertise of the operators. This is not a type of flying that you just waltz in to; Australia is learning from the experience of others that have been doing this for a long time.

Aerial firefighting is not just large air tankers; there are multiple single engine air tankers (SEAT) and helicopters as well, and these are almost exclusively provided by Australian operators. Take a look at Aerial Firefighting | NAFC
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 05:30
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Direct quote from your link, chimbu -

"Fixed-wing aircraft that are used for firebombing tend to be of the larger agricultural-style, specially modified for firebombing. These aircraft are sometimes referred to as SEATs (Single-Engined Air Tankers). This type of aircraft particularly suits the conditions most often encountered in Australia where there are relatively few long paved runways, but plenty of agricultural airstrips. "

When states sign 10 year leases on B737 aircraft, SEATS get parked.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 07:20
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We had some serious fires on the Sunshine Coast over the last few days, and most prominent with belly tanks were the B214 and the Dauphin, and aided by 427 and 407 with longline buckets, on the fixed-wing side were a Pawnee (what it looked like from a distance) on floats and a belly tank, and an Aerocommander spotting for a 737 tanker.

No SEATS parked, they were right into it, though they had to move clear when the 737 made some passes.

They did the job, no complaints about helicopter noise - (but wait till next week and they forget about the fires) and there was a sizeable crowd watching the lads suck water from the lake in the golf course.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 07:46
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It’s economics. It’s the cost of buying versus the cost of hiring for six months plus ferry costs. This argument has been done to death. It’s about litres per hour delivered to the fireground.

Please, no more arguments about converting old Qantas B747’s to firebombers, F18’s with water bombs, etc., etc.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 09:27
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Not quite Sunfish.

Most of the SEAT fleet in Australia are utilized year round. When not on fires, in the agricultural role.

Not owned by state governments. Local operators that have invested heavily and are here for the long haul.

If their contract is renewed, that is.

Last edited by currawong; 11th Sep 2019 at 09:42.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 10:06
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Sunny,
One could also ask, if a foreign company can send aircraft to Australia for work, what's to stop an Australian company sending an Australian aircraft to a foreign country to work?

The answer is there is no way they could compete in a foreign market under Australian regulations.

Under Australia's unique maintenance regulations it costs twice as much to maintain the same aircraft here as there.

Those that interpret Australian regulations would have you tied up for years writing manuals to prove compliance.

If you manage to remain solvent and sane long enough for an approval to be granted, that can all change with a change at the whim of the new "approvees".

Sovereign risk I believe they call it, with all your key personnel felons and therefore unable to travel overseas, your business model is suddenly dissolved by a pineapple inserted in an orifice, with severe prejudice.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 14:13
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B737 - 15,000 litres capacity
Air Tractor 802 - 3000 litres capacity. And almost certainly can deliver load with better precision.

Surely, 5 x Air Tractors are cheaper town and operate than a single 737? Not to mention the issue of redundancy.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 14:28
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Victoria will have a fleet of 50 this year, its largest is history (this includes lead aircraft, intel aircraft etc), 6 are from overseas. About 70 more on what they call the 'call when needed' which are brought online as required but are not on 15 min stand by.

Includes about 2 Large air tankers (1 RJ85 and 1 C-130Q), 2 sky cranes, 2 Coulson Sikorsky S61, 12 Seats, 15 light/medium helitacks.


This is an example of the fleet from last year,




Last edited by logansi; 11th Sep 2019 at 14:38.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 16:51
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Originally Posted by lucille View Post
B737 - 15,000 litres capacity
Air Tractor 802 - 3000 litres capacity. And almost certainly can deliver load with better precision.

Surely, 5 x Air Tractors are cheaper town and operate than a single 737? Not to mention the issue of redundancy.
doesnít quite work that way. It has a lot to do with drop patterns, variability of the tank etc

think right tool for the job, you donít use 10 ball peen hammers to do the job of a sledgehammer.

every aircraft has itís place even though it may not seem apparent at first.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 19:56
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I think you need a mixed fleet for economy of effort.

To use a 737, C130 and other big iron is nice, but you need a dedicated water supply, pumps and mixing tanks capable of refilling the aircraft quickly and there aren’t going to be many of these necessarily near a fire and they are rather a blunt instrument compared to a SEAT or a helicopter with a bucket.

I fought one fire last year which luckily was only about 8km from the regional base and also luckily three SEATS were available.

They set up a circuit so we got a drop about every ten minutes and they controlled one inaccessible flank of the fire, leaving us to deal with the other one. A B737 or C130 would have been overkill and probably not very effective as this fire was on a hillside where access was difficult and you needed to confirm it was out by stages. The smaller aircraft controlled by the spotter helicopter was able to target the drops very precisely which meant we didn’t have to run and hide all the time because the drops could be synchronised with our work rate, it all worked out quite well.

Later we had the Myhree fire where there was a lot of forested ridgetops burning and the potential of losing a lot of the King valley grape harvest due to smoke taint. The C130’s did a great job on the main fire fronts which were large and inaccessible. All we had to do was watch the edges and look out for spotting.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 20:06
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Originally Posted by Sunfish View Post
I think you need a mixed fleet for economy of effort.

To use a 737, C130 and other big iron is nice, but you need a dedicated water supply, pumps and mixing tanks capable of refilling the aircraft quickly and there arenít going to be many of these necessarily near a fire and they are rather a blunt instrument compared to a SEAT or a helicopter with a bucket.

I fought one fire last year which luckily was only about 8km from the regional base and also luckily three SEATS were available.

They set up a circuit so we got a drop about every ten minutes and they controlled one inaccessible flank of the fire, leaving us to deal with the other one. A B737 or C130 would have been overkill and probably not very effective as this fire was on a hillside where access was difficult and you needed to confirm it was out by stages. The smaller aircraft controlled by the spotter helicopter was able to target the drops very precisely which meant we didnít have to run and hide all the time because the drops could be synchronised with our work rate, it all worked out quite well.

Later we had the Myhree fire where there was a lot of forested ridgetops burning and the potential of losing a lot of the King valley grape harvest due to smoke taint. The C130ís did a great job on the main fire fronts which were large and inaccessible. All we had to do was watch the edges and look out for spotting.
I flew about 5 or so seasons with B412/212ís on fires in Australia and honestly the heavy aircraft have their place.

until youíve seen them in action on the fires where they had devastating effect you wonít be a convert like I was.
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Old 11th Sep 2019, 22:07
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on the first fire I mentioned, a big aircraft would have been impractical. The fire was relatively small and access was difficult - steep paddock leading up to the edge of forest, erosion gullies and old fences everywhere. We had about five trucks in.

For a big dump, it would have taken us at least three quarters of an hour to get clear and the same to get back. The little aircraft were bombing about 75 to 100 metres away which meant we didn’t have far to go to get clear and return, at least that’s my recollection. A big “nuclear “ retardant drop was probably out of place. The SEATs did just fine.

Not so the Myhree fire, which got started by two kids doing circle work in an old car in a grassy paddock.
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Old 12th Sep 2019, 04:10
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Originally Posted by Sunfish View Post
on the first fire I mentioned, a big aircraft would have been impractical. The fire was relatively small and access was difficult - steep paddock leading up to the edge of forest, erosion gullies and old fences everywhere. We had about five trucks in.

For a big dump, it would have taken us at least three quarters of an hour to get clear and the same to get back. The little aircraft were bombing about 75 to 100 metres away which meant we didnít have far to go to get clear and return, at least thatís my recollection. A big ďnuclear ď retardant drop was probably out of place. The SEATs did just fine.

Not so the Myhree fire, which got started by two kids doing circle work in an old car in a grassy paddock.
like i said thereís a time and place for every tool in the shed, you personally just havenít seen the need yet, doesnít mean there isnít the need.

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Old 12th Sep 2019, 05:11
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There’s a need alright. We had the C130s at the Myhree fire. Bigger would have been better.

The SEATS are also very good as quick response, faster than the hero’s and our tankers.
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Old 12th Sep 2019, 05:21
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The best place for the big tankers is in thick bushland, SEAT loads are often to light and can't penetrate the canopy
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Old 12th Sep 2019, 09:33
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Originally Posted by logansi View Post
The best place for the big tankers is in thick bushland, SEAT loads are often to light and can't penetrate the canopy
Not true, depends on application rate/bush density/pilot skill, I'd hardly call 3000 litres light. With LATS I've seen retardant just misting on top of the canopy, again depends on application rate and operational considerations as to how high the drop is. As others have said if used to their advantages all aircraft have good points, it's the management that quite often use the wrong choice with it being fashionable to use the LATS lately instead of seats.
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Old 12th Sep 2019, 10:59
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Originally Posted by Cedrik View Post
Not true, depends on application rate/bush density/pilot skill, I'd hardly call 3000 litres light. With LATS I've seen retardant just misting on top of the canopy, again depends on application rate and operational considerations as to how high the drop is. As others have said if used to their advantages all aircraft have good points, it's the management that quite often use the wrong choice with it being fashionable to use the LATS lately instead of seats.
Just my experience from a season as a seasonal firefighter. LATs were the only aircraft able to get through the mountain ash on a high country fire I worked on, that was at the maximum rate. On another note, seasonal firefighter roles are great for anyone young looking to pay for some flight training, short term contact, good pay and a bit of hard work. Plus if you get to know the right people you might get to work as in aviation involved roles such as a bomber loader which can lead to some great stories from the pilots!
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Old 13th Sep 2019, 01:04
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Thorn Bird,
Sadly, spot on!!
Anybody who involves themselves with CASA and Australian aviation regulation, if they have an alternative, should be possible examination by ASIC and NDIS.
And, that other factor, for local based outfits, there are no pleasant all expenses paid trips "O/S" for the permanent bureaucracy . A week in Albury, versus a week California, no contest.
Tootle pip
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