Proposal for nationally co-ordinated aerial firefighting fleet to go to governments

07 November 2020

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AUSTRALIA – Night ops technology that will allow for more precise waterbombing during a bushfire forms part of a proposal for a nationally co-ordinated aerial firefighting fleet, spearheaded by an Australian billionaire and an aviation company.

The joint plan from businessman Lindsay Fox and Coulson Aviation would include large fixed-wing air tankers, super heavy helicopters and fire intelligence gathering aircraft based in every jurisdiction.

They intend to build a world class training facility and centre of excellence for volunteers, while the fleet will also be used for search and rescue operations, surveillance and medical evacuations.

A national aerial fleet “to be tasked according to greatest national need” was among the 80 recommendations recently made by the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

The Royal Commission focused on the 2019/2020 bushfire season, which saw 33 people lose their lives, thousands of homes destroyed and almost three billion animals killed or displaced.

“We have concluded that Australia needs a national approach to natural disasters,” the report read.

“This does not mean that the Australian government should take over from state and territory governments.

“Rather, it means that we need whole-of-nation, whole-of-government and whole-of-society co-operation and effort.”

Mr Fox said he had been looking to build a national bushfire and disaster response for years.

“I’m relieved to see the Royal Commission agrees that we need one – and urgently,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

Mr Fox said there was always an opportunity to improve Australia’s approach to aerial firefighting.

“Each of the states and territories are responsible for their own emergency response, so each response varies,” he said.

“As our fire seasons get longer — and become more dangerous and unpredictable — the most sensible and safe solution is a co-ordinated national approach.”

The Fox Coulson consortium aims to fulfil the requirements of state and federal governments and say they will create hundreds of jobs.

But they are hoping to save many more lives.

Coulson Aviation Australia chairman Wayne Coulson said large capacity air tankers were effective in managing bushfires, particularly at night.

“During the day, we’re responding to an emergency situation, there are other aircraft around, there’s panic on the ground and you’re reacting,” he said.

“At night, the advantages are higher humidity, lower temperature and typically lower winds.

“You own the airspace and can control the situation much more efficiently and effectively.

“Our night ops technology combines laser beams the size of a car with cutting edge thermal imaging and night vision technology to see everything.

“That means we can waterbomb much more precisely, so less retardant and water is wasted. It’s a game changer.”

The next step will be to take the proposal to the state and federal governments, with the aim to launch the fleet in December next year.

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