The Australian Helicopter Industry Association (AHIA) and the Aerial Application Association of Australia (AAAA) have combined to call for a co-ordinated national approach to aerial firefighting ahead of this Saturday's Federal Election.
AHIA CEO Paul Tyrrell and AAAA CEO Phil Hurst made the call in a joint policy on firebombing released this week.
"The Commonwealth, states and territories should work with Australian industry leaders–being the AAAA and AHIA–to develop a national strategy to ensure supply of appropriate aircraft by Australian industry in a partnership approach," the policy states.
"The national strategy must include a plan for the ongoing improvement of the quality and capability of the fleet and a strong role for Australian suppliers."
Australia currently employs an aerial firefighting fleet consisting of single engined air tankers (SEAT) such as Air Tractors and Dromaders, helicopters such as Ericson Air Cranes, BK 117s and Bell 412s and heavy tankers such as the Coulson C-130 and B737 Fireliner. AHIA and AAAA believe it's time to re-evaluate these aerial resources.
"An independent, research-driven approach should be used to determine the optimal mix of aircraft types–including fixed wing and rotary wing, Single Engine Air Tankers, light (air attack supervision only), medium and heavy helicopters, LATs [Large Aerial Tankers] and VLATs [Very Large Aerial Tankers] and drones–to be incorporated into the national aerial firefighting fleet.
"Consideration should also be given to issues such as reliability, redundancy, flexibility and cost-effectiveness that may arise from multiple rather than single or very limited-number assets."
Central to the national approach policy, AHIA and the AAAA advocate for establishing a consultative committee on aerial firefighting.
"As a core commitment to the development and implementation of a national strategy in support of aerial firefighting, governments should enhance their ‘partnership’ commitment to industry by establishing and sustaining stronger consultative and decision sharing mechanisms and formalised bodies for both national and state/territory jurisdictions.This should include a National Aerial Fire-Fighting Consultative Committee that includes both AHIA and AAAA as key members.
"In addition to fulfilling a consultative role, the National Aerial Fire-Fighting Consultative Committee should also be tasked with developing:
- a nationally consistent aerial firefighting procurement, contracting and management strategy for all aerial firefighting assets
- a national aerial firefighting research program
- a national aerial firefighting quality assurance program
- a national aerial firefighting Safety Management System."
According to the policy, the government would also be better of if they were to divest state-owned firefighting aircraft and rely on signing partnership contracts with existing private operators.
"The industry is strongly of the view that taxpayers are ill-served by government ownership of aerial firefighting assets due to considerations of capital cost, utilisation and out-of-fire season downtime, competition impacts and lack of expertise issues.
"Government and taxpayers very much benefit from a partnership approach with industry. Ownership of assets should be through government-private partnerships, whereby assets and services are contracted for longer periods of at least five years to give companies the confidence and financial security to invest in long term asset development. "
AHIA and the AAAA have also stated strongly that training pathways for Australian pilots to qualify as firefighting pilots.
The full aerial firefighting policy can be downloaded from the AAAA website.