Australia to have six large air tankers during the 2020-2021 bushfire season

The list includes: B737, Q400, RJ 85, and C-130

Air Tanker 141, C-FFQEQ, Q400
T-141 (C-FFQEQ) Q400AT – Refueling at Majuro, Marshall Islands in August , 2020 while en route to Bundaberg, Queensland for the 2020-2021 bushfire season in Australia. Photo Credit Brendon Sutton.

Wildland fire authorities in Australia expect to have at least six large air tankers working on exclusive use arrangements during the 2020-2021 fire season which is already underway down under. Five will be under contract and one, a B737, is owned by the New South Wales government.

Richard Alder, General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) said on October 13, “We will continue to monitor how the season develops and consider the need for additional large airtankers if required.”

A year ago Australia started the 2019-2020 fire season with a plan to have five large air tankers, but when the fire activity grew to unprecedented levels, NAFC added two in November, 2019 (a DC-10 and a C-130Q) then in January, 2020 added four more (two DC-10s and two MD-87s).

Currently active:

  • B737, Bomber 210  (formerly Tanker 138), N138CG, purchased from Coulson and now owned by New South Wales Rural Fire Service, at Richmond, NSW. Year round.
  • Q400AT, Bomber 141, C-FFQE, supplied by  FieldAir/Conair, at Bundaberg, Queensland. Started September 1, 2020.
  • RJ85, Bomber 166 (Tanker 166), C-GVFT, supplied by FieldAir/Conair, at Dubbo, New South Wales. Started October 1, 2020.

Due to start November 1, 2020:

  • B737, Tanker 137, N137CG, supplied by Coulson, at Richmond, NSW. The contract allows Coulson to substitute another aircraft, their “new” Tanker 132, a C130H, depending on the status of the overlapping fire seasons in Australia and the US.

Due to start December 2, 2020.

  • RJ 85, Bomber 391, C-GVFK (?), supplied by FieldAir/Conair, at Avalon Victoria.

Due to start December 16, 2020

  • C130Q, Bomber 390 (Tanker 131), N130FF, supplied by Coulson, at Avalon Victoria.

According according to a September through November outlook from the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre much of Australia may be looking at a slower than average fire season for the next two months.

The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) was formed by the Australian States and Territories in July, 2003 to provide a cooperative national arrangement for combating bushfires. It facilitates the coordination and procurement of a fleet of firefighting aircraft that are readily available for use by State and Territory emergency service and land management agencies across Australia.

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13 thoughts on “Australia to have six large air tankers during the 2020-2021 bushfire season”

  1. They should find out what happened to T134 before they put anymore Bombers in the air. That whole situation was seemingly swept under the rug.

  2. Rather than hiring fire water bombing planes and taking resources away from the Northern Hemisphere, the Australian govt should invest in buying their own fleet.

    1. Sharing water bombers between hemispheres makes much more sense than having a big fleet sitting around during the winter.

      1. If we fitted out our own Hercs with the fire fighting pod systems they could be fighting the fires in season and be dropping water etc into drought areas as well as meeting the normal defence needs. Then our planes would pay their way!!

  3. The “hit” rate from water bombers is suprisingly low contrary to how great they look dumping their contents!

    Most fires have a “hot spot” that demands pin point accuracy and that is not always possible with the dump-and-hope technique associated with the bombers.

    Add hostile terrain, ground level winds, turbulence, piloting skills, long turnarounds and flight times to and from suitable refilling airports and it has been calculated in Canada and the USA that the overall effectiveness is around 25% and very, very expensive!

    But, enter the helicopter that can hover and dump a load of water or fire retardant with 100% pinpoint accuracy exactly where it’s needed coupled with the ability scoop up water from swimming pools, small water bodies and it is far superior to the bombers.

    A chopper water scoop can hold up to 5,000 litres being a third or half what the smaller bombers carry plus they can reload 10 times faster!

    Food for thought?

    1. That’s not remotely true, and doesn’t address the purpose of air tankers. “Most fires” do NOT have a “hot spot” that requires “pinpoint accuracy,” and when it does come to spot fires, tankers tend to be very accurate. The way the tanker is used, however, is not the same as most helicopters, and the mission, purpose, mode of application, cost and other aspects are quite different. It’s an apples to walnuts comparison.

  4. A helicopter hovering over a target usually starts more fires than it puts out because of rotor downwash blowing hot burning embers in every direction. If you watch a helicopter work they usually have forward motion when they drop, not unlike a fixed wing.

  5. Totally- this is a helpful move but not even effective or efficient strategy for Australia (and the other places seeing rises in the nature and amount of wildfires) unless they can scale which doesn’t seem to be the case anywhere. There’s a company called MAFFS from the US ( that make systems for planes that roll-on and off in a couple of hours and can be easily shared. Australia, New Zealand etc. all have C-130’s that they wouldn’t even need to permanently alter. US Forest Service has a bunch of them they can easily share if asked. Our fire season overlaps more and more with the Southern Hemisphere and Australia needs to get its own pool to use and can lend them out to neighbors or send them North if not needed. Someone should look into as they look to intelligently scale their defense and capabilities.

    1. Ted: What would be effective and efficient?
      Exactly how many MAFFs does the USFS have to share? Would they share? Says who?

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