The current fleet for aerial firefighting includes mostly helicopters and fixed-wing planes with small load capacities instead of larger air-tankers, the bushfires royal commission observed. Many of these assets, according to the inquiry’s interim observations, are based overseas and may prove difficult to acquire as fire seasons in both hemispheres begin to overlap.
Although Australia does have a National Aerial Firefighting Centre, this body was formed by the states and territories and does not own aircraft or employ pilots. Instead, it tenders for these services and shares the fleet across the nation.
The Australian Federation of Air Pilots, a trade union, seized on a draft recommendation from the inquiry for a “sovereign aerial firefighting capability of sufficient size and versatility to meet national needs”.
AFAP president Louise Pole has called for the federal government to establish an aerial firefighting flight wing with aircraft registered in Australia and staffed by local pilots, many of whom have found themselves stood down or made redundant at the commercial airlines.
“We have many pilots who are literally on the ground with the skills that are required to cross-train on these aircraft that are used for firefighting,” Ms Pole said.