Scores of single engine air tankers have seen action in Australia’s bushfire season

Air Tractor AT-802F
Air Tractor AT-802F. Air Tractor photo.

Now that all of the major bushfires in Australia have been knocked down by combined efforts of firefighters and rain, we can look back on one of the busiest fire seasons in Australia’s history.

In September, 2019 before the contracts were awarded, Richard Alder General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) said he expected that there would be approximately 45 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) on national exclusive use contracts in the 2019/2020 bushfire season, plus another six contracted directly to state government agencies. That was 8 less than in 2018/2019. Others could be activated on what we call in the United States Call When Needed agreements.

The SEATs being used in Australia are manufactured by Air Tractor and other companies. Air Tractor sent us information about how their SEATs played a role in battling the fires. Here are some excerpts:


The firefighting effort was a massive undertaking on the ground and in the air. While large airtankers (LATs) did much of the heavy lifting for the recent fires, it is estimated that 65 of the existing 81 Air Tractor AT-802 airplanes in Australia also saw action over the blazes.

The Australian National Aerial Fire Council (NAFC), which oversees the contracting on behalf of the various states, reported they contracted 54 AT-802’s. Four of seven Australia-based AT- 802F Fire Boss amphibious scooper airtankers were also under NAFC contracts. Additionally, some states engaged AT-802 firefighting airplanes on “as-needed” contracts. Sources estimated this accounted for as many as ten additional AT-802s put into service.

Most of the contracted AT-802F aircraft are equipped with the Pratt & Whitney 1,600 SHP PT6A-67F turboprop engine. It powers the airplane at speeds approaching 200 m.p.h. (174 kts.) while ferrying between the fire and its airtanker base or mobile retardant base. In most cases, NAFC-contracted AT-802 airtankers operate in pairs. This tactic multiplies the amount of retardant or suppressant delivered to the incident and reduces time between deliveries. Once over the fire, the AT-802F and Fire Boss deliver their retardant, gel or water with computer-controlled precision to knock down grass and brush fires or suppress fires in heavier canopies.

Australia’s devastating fires kept Air Tractors and the Australian aerial firefighting community working hard this season. Many Air Tractor operators had a slow agricultural spray season as a consequence of the very dry conditions leading up to the fires. And now that heavy rains have quelled the wildfires, AT-802 airplanes may be put into service for habitat restoration. Their 800-gallon capacity hopper, speed, and maneuverability make quick work of hydromulch application or reseeding for erosion control.

Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss. Air Tractor photo.
Air Tractor AT-802F Fire Boss. Air Tractor photo.

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