The 2015 European Aerial Firefighting Conference, organized by Tangent Link, a specialized UK-based conference and exhibition organizer, took place April 29-30, 2015 in the beautiful Croatian coastal city of Zadar. Officially named Aerial Firefighting Europe 2015 (AFF Europe 2015), the 12th aerial firefighting conference was sponsored by DynCorp International, Air Tractor Inc., Inaer and Saab AB. The conference saw participation from over 200 delegates from 33 countries. The conference was preceded by a one day Interoperability Workshop under the auspices of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC), which functions as the Secretariat for the International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG) and the Wildfire Preparedness Mechanism (IWPM). The Interoperability Workshop was focused on locating and improving the elements of interoperability among different countries and providers of aerial firefighting means when conducting out-of-area aerial firefighting operations, especially in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina that is often affected by wildfires but still lacks proper resources to adequately and independently handle such devastating threats. In that sense, participants of the Interoperability Workshop agreed that the effectiveness of out-of-area deployments depend upon the elements of interoperability: ready diplomatic clearance; ease of communication; commonality of aircraft servicing facilities; detailed operating elements such as water access for scooping etc. and safety of aerial firefighting operations. AFF Europe 2015 was opened by Conference Chairman, Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB FRAeS, Royal Navy, UK, and was followed by a speech from Dr. Jadran Perinić, General Director of the Croatia’s National Protection and Rescue Directorate (DUZS). Director Perinić speech about his country’s need for effective aerial firefighting capabilities was supplemented by Maj. Davor Turković, Croatian Air Force and Air Defence Firefighting Squadron Commander and CL-415 pilot, who spoke about his squadron’s out-of-area cross border deployments over the previous years, but focusing on neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first day of the conference saw a very intensive tempo during which a number of interesting presentations were given. Speaking about the role and perspectives of the EU civil protection mechanism in aerial firefighting, Dimitrios Pagidas, Policy Officer of European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), explained that an Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) has been set up within ECHO to support a coordinated and quicker response to disasters both inside and outside Europe, using resources from 31 countries participating in the EU civil protection mechanism. Heralding a culture of prevention and preparedness, Pagidas pointed out that the ERCC will build upon predefined capabilities. Key to this will be the establishment of a European Response Capacity with the essential elements of interoperability, self-sufficiency, dispatch at a very short notice and finance for training and exercise. Representing the Protection and Rescue Sector of the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr. Sc. Samir Huseinbašić spoke about the legacy and challenges of aerial fighting of wildfires in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in regards to complications coming out of the complex arrangement of internal political, social and governmental structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also from still present and deadly landmine fields in that country. Coming from another Balkan country, Professor Dr. Nikola Nikolov of the Regional Fire Monitoring Center (RFMC) based in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, spoke about Macedonia’s aerial firefighting capabilities that are organized around a small fleet of three Air Tractor AT-802A Fire Boss aircraft. Spanish participation on the first day of AFF Europe 2015 came in the form of presentation given by Elsa Enriquez Alcalde, head of the Spanish Forest Fire Service within the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, that briefed on numerous helicopter assets under her control and their utilization through 17 autonomous regions in Spain. The first-day of AFF Europe 2015 was also used by sponsors of the conference to give their key messages and present their unique capabilities. Speaking on behalf of US-based Air Tractor Inc. but also acting as a Sale Manager of Valencia-based company Air Tractor Europe and Avialsa T-35, Hugo Arceo made a presentation on the highly impressive, hugely flexible, very capable and extremely economical Air Tractor AT-802 firefighting aircraft in its land-based and amphibian configurations. Hugo also presented the key factors behind Avialsa’s success in performing commercially-driven firefighting operations in both Spain and in many other Mediterranean countries such as Portugal and France. Hugo Arceo also made exclusivity at AFF Europe 2015 by presenting for the first time in public the Avialsa-owned AT-802 EASA FTD Level II flight simulator, the world’s first. Apart from been an extraordinary event for networking among AFF Europe 2015 participants, the Zadar conference dinner held on 29 April was a perfect occasion for presenting the Tangent Link conceived “Walt Darran Award” for the finest contribution to Aerial Firefighting. This year the award was given to Philippe Bodino, a servant of the French Ministry of the Interior, for his overall achievements and as recognition to him as an outstanding aerial firefighter of his generation. The second day of AFF Europe 2015 started with dynamic and static displays of different types of aircraft at the Zadar-Zemunik air base of the Croatian Air Force and Air Defence. The dynamic display saw impressive firefighting demonstrations from Spanish Air Force CL-415s (identification number 43-22/1109) followed by Croatian Air Force CL-415s (identification number 877) and Italian Inaer-operated CL-215Ts (identification registration/number I-DPCP/11). Croatian Air Force participation also saw demonstration of firefighting operations by land-based Air Tractor AT-802As (identification number 892) and amphibian-configured Air Tractor AT-802A Fire Bosses (identification number 893). The star of the flying program, however, was Croatian Air Force Mi-171Sh transport helicopter (identification number 220) that demonstrated aerial extraction of a group of fire-fighters encircled by wildfire. A similar situation occured on 30 August 2007 at Kornati Islands, a group of 13 Croatian fire-fighters had been encircled by wildfire with 12 of them being killed in a tragic development which triggered urgent expansion of the Croatian aerial firefighting fleet – five new AT-802s and two CL-415s. The star of the static display at Zadar-Zemuni air base was Croatian Air Force and Air Defence latest addition – a dual cockpit amphibian Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss firefighting and training plane (identification number 897). Delivered to Zadar-Zemunik air base on 14 November 2014 this aircraft is the eighth AT-802 to join Croatian Air Force since 2001 and the third such dual cockpit plane that entered service with Croatia. Apart from been a fully capable firefighting aircraft, this aircraft is a platform that now provides the nation’s military with a possibility to effectively conduct training of new and existing military pilots. The closing of AFF Europe 2015 saw some interesting global contributions with new initiatives. With Australian state of Victoria’s “Black Saturday” of 2009 experience still shaping nations aerial firefighting approach, Aviation Officer Wayne Rigg of the Victoria County Fire Authority briefed on the Royal Commission recommendation to establish a system that enables the dispatch of aircraft to fires in high-risk areas without requiring a request from an Incident Controller or the State Duty Officer. As a response, the resultant Pre Determined Dispatch of aircraft (PDD) has shaved 22 minutes off response time, Rigg explained. Also coming from Far East, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Director Takeshi Ito presented advanced modeling on the dispersal of water droplets and with computer aids to assist the pilots has made a valuable step forward in the effective deployment of water in fire fighting. Coming from security fragile Lebanon, Sawsan Boo Fakhreddine, the Director General of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC), explained that due to internal and border conflicts in the country, aerial firefighting is the responsibility of the Lebanese Army and Air Forces. Their challenges, however, pale alongside those of the country in general and AFDC in particular with over 1.4 million refugees. The burden on fragile environmental resources is already immense, but forest and fire risks are heightened by uncontrolled access for wood and illegal fires. Her plea for support was heartfelt and was aimed to be heard by UN agencies as well as by the EU and neighboring countries able to respond. The AFF Europe 2015 showed to be extremely successful event as it has progressed in step with UN, EU and IFAWG initiatives, providing a shop window for interoperability issues and the beneficial deployment of assets to combat the impacts of climate change, conflicts and population growth (including refugees) in a world of limited resources. The apparent thirst for knowledge on procedures and safe and effective aerial firefighting operations by many nations as well as their obvious need for close contact with industry and access to cost effective aerial firefighting means establishes the need of continuing with the tradition of organizing Aerial Firefighting conferences on an annual basis. Tangent Link has already scheduled AFF 2016 to happen next year in North America with the event to again return to Europe in the year 2017. The 9-person team that proudly waved the Air Tractor name in Zadar, Croatia, left-right standing: Igor Bozinovski – Air Tractor Europe customer support in Macedonia, Anders Hellstrom – Air Tractor Europe customer support in Sweden, Christian Belmonte – CEO Biogema, Hugo Arceo – Sales Manager of Air Tractor Europe and Avialsa T-35, Vincente Huerta – President and CEO of Air Tractor Europe and Avialsa T-35, Haig Hagopian – Vice President at International Sales at Wipair Inc. and Ben Trotter – Vice President at Trotter Controls. Kneeling from left to right are: Andy Holcomb – Senior Controls Engineer at Trotter Controls and Victor Trotter – President and Chief Technology Officer at Trotter Controls. A group of Croatian Air Force and Air Defence officers seen in front of latest fire-fighting aircraft acquired by Croatia – a twin-seat floats-equipped amphibian Air Tractor AT-802 “Fire Boss”. Hugo Arceo of Air Tractor Europe and AFF Europe 2015 Chairman Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB FRAeS, Royal Navy, UK seen during Arceo’s speech at the Zadar conference.]]>