• AAAA members use their extensive low-level experience to fight fires using SEATs. (Steve Hitchen)
    AAAA members use their extensive low-level experience to fight fires using SEATs. (Steve Hitchen)

Aerial  Application Association of Australia (AAAA) CEO Matt Harper has welcomed the announcement that the government will spend $35 million over the next two years supporting aerial firefighting through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC)

The funding will go towards establishing a sovereign aerial capability, which was a key recommendation in the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, and is expected to ease pressure on defence force personnel and aerial firefighting aircraft.

"Our members invest heavily in their helicopters and SEAT [single-engined air tankers], as well as employ and train pilots, ground support and mechanics," Harper said.

"Our members’ (and Australia’s) firefighting expertise is internationally recognised, with a significant portion of our dedicated firefighting fleet now making their way to the northern hemisphere for the summer fire season

"Any consideration of a future capability will need to balance speed and accuracy with cost and sustainability, and we look forward to continuing to work with NAFC to demonstrate the vital role of Australian owned, crewed, registered and maintained aircraft."

Federal Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt detailed the extra funding last week.

"More than half of Australia’s Local Government Areas have experienced a natural disaster since July 2022 – many of them more than once," Watt said.

"That’s why we’re helping to deliver the national aerial emergency response capability worth more than $35 million over the next two years. 

"This will bring our total national contribution to $48 million per year.

"The Albanese Government, through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), will work with the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to shape a future fleet of aircraft that can be used across the country."

The NAFC contracts around 150 aircraft to the states, with the fleet a mixture of fixed-wing and helicopters including AT802s, Black Hawks, Dromaders, Squirrels, B117s, BAe RJ85s, Bell 412s and SkyCranes.

Many Australian firefighting pilots are drawn from the aerial application industry, mostly flying SEATs such as Air Tractors.

Many move between firefighting and aerial application depending on the seasons and the available work.

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