Australian aviation fleet prepares for bushfire season

Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire
Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire in New South Wales. Photo: Kerry Lawrence, NWS RFS

As the bushfire season begins in Australia the firefighting agencies in their States and the National Aerial Firefighting Centre are ramping up the fleet of aerial resources to be ready for the fires which got a much earlier start than normal in October when the “worst wildfire conditions in more than 40 years” destroyed more than 200 homes. During that siege two two fixed wing aircraft crashed killing both pilots.

The bushfire season has historically started in late November or early December and lasted through February, but now that we have warmer and more extreme weather across the globe fire managers in Australia and around the world are having to adapt.

Most of the firefighting aircraft in Australia are privately owned and work under contracts for the government. The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) coordinates the procurement of the aircraft on behalf of the States and Territories.

 National Aerial Firefighting Centre Richard Alder, the General Manager of the NAFC, told Fire Aviation that about one third of the 75 contracted aircraft have started work already and the majority will be on by early to mid-December, depending how the fire season develops in the south part of the country. As the summer temperatures increase, the down under fire season moves from north to south. The 75 aircraft includes helicopters, Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), and fixed wing aircraft that are used for reconnaissance and other purposes.

During last year’s 2012-2013 fire season, NAFC had the following on contract:

  • 14 SEATs (Air Tractor AT 802 and AT 602)
  • 3 Bell 206-L
  • 2 Bell 205
  • 5 Bell 212
  • 2 Bell 214-B
  • 5 Erickson S 64 Air-Crane
  • 12 Eurocopter AS 350, 355, and 365
  • 2 Kawasaki BK 117-B2
  • 4 Sikorsky S 61-N

This season, 2013-2014, in addition to the smaller helicopters, Mr. Alder said they will have:

  • 23 SEATs, which includes one water-scooping FireBoss. (All are on exclusive use, three-year contracts with options to extend to five years.)
  • 6 Erickson S 64 Air-Cranes (from Kestral Aviation via Erickson)
  • 2 Sikorsky S 61-N (from Coulson Aircrane Australia, a subsidiary of Coulson Aircrane in Canada)
  • 10 Bell 214-B, which the NAFC considers a Type 1 helicopter (from McDermontt Aviation)
  • Other aircraft, including 30 SEATs, are available on call when needed contracts.

There are no air tankers larger than SEATs working in Australia, in spite of a request for proposals that NAFC issued in November, 2012. They advertised it at the time via Twitter:

That RFP indicated their intention to contract not only for various types of helicopters, but also for water-scooping, large, and very large air tankers. We asked Mr. Alder what became of the effort to procure the larger aircraft. He responded:

The RFP is a component of a major project we have running to closely examine the applicability of larger fixed wing airtankers in the Australian situation. The project is ongoing and we are continuing to (actively!) gather and analyse data and related information on these capabilities (and are particularly grateful to our colleagues in the US for sharing their experiences over the recent season).

 

New CL-415 seen at Winnipeg

Aero Flite CL-415 at Winnipeg
Aero Flite CL-415 at Winnipeg, November 5, 2013. Photo by Bokovay.

We have received two reports about a new CL-415 that has been at Winnipeg (CYWG) for the last several days. It is sporting an Aero-Flite logo and a registration number of C-GUZF. This is apparently the aircraft purchased by TENAX Aerospace which will be leased to Aero-Flite, the company that recently received a five-year contract from the U.S. Forest Service for a CL-415 water-scooping air tanker. We think this is designated Tanker 260.

 

Thanks go out to Mike and Barry

Legislation introduced that would compensate families of fallen contract firefighters

(This was originally posted at Wildfire Today)

A United States Senator has introduced legislation, S. 1628: Fallen Wildland Firefighters Fair Compensation Act of 2013, that would provide for contract wildland firefighters to be covered for death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOB). Currently contracted personnel fighting fire from the ground or the air who are not regular federal, state, or local agency employees are not eligible for death or disability benefits should they be killed or injured in the line of duty. For example, air tanker pilots and contract hand crew personnel are not covered. This bill, if it passes, would change that. The current version of the legislation as it was introduced yesterday is HERE. The progress of the bill can be tracked online.

The current amount of the PSOB benefit is $333,604.68 for eligible deaths occurring on or after October 1, 2013.

This bill is long overdue. We encourage you to contact your federal Senators and Representative. Ask them to co-sponsor and vote for this legislation. Here is a link you can use to identify and contact your elected officials — http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

If you are in favor of this bill, you can sign a petition at Change.org.

Below is the text of the press release issued by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley:

****

Merkley Introduces Legislation to Provide Benefits to Families of Fallen Firefighters

Legislation crafted after Oregon families were denied benefits

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley introduced the Fallen Wildland Firefighters Fair Compensation Act that would allow aerial and ground contracted firefighters to be covered for death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOB). Currently, these benefits are granted to state and local police, firefighters, EMTs and also federally employed wildland firefighters, but not contracted wildland firefighters, even though 40% of firefighters who battle blazes on federal land are contracted. Senator Merkley crafted this legislation after hearing from families of contracted Oregon firefighters who had been killed in 2008 and were denied death benefits.

“Every summer across Oregon, thousands of contract firefighters risk their lives fighting to protect our federal forests, grasslands, and lands,” said Merkley. “It is past time that we make sure that if the worst happens while on the job, the families of fallen firefighters are granted proper benefits.”

Typically, contracted firefighters account for 10,000-15,000 people each year. While these men and women work and train right alongside of and even receive direction from the U.S. Forest Service, in the unfortunate event of death or traumatic injury, contract firefighters cannot receive comparable benefits to federal employees.

This bill would give the surviving spouses and children of fallen firefighters the same survivor benefits that those of other firefighters and law enforcement receive.”

After crash, Dromaders grounded in Australia

Six days after the crash of a Dromader single engine air tanker that killed pilot David Black, government investigators have reached the crash site. Firefighters built a helispot in the steep, rugged terrain, but strong winds prevented helicopters from flying the investigators into the area.

Below is an excerpt from the Guardian:

****

“…Seven other models of the same fixed-wing aircraft were grounded on Wednesday by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority as a precaution.

David Black, 43, died when his Dromader aircraft crashed in Budawang national park, 40 kilometres west of Ulladulla, about 10am on Thursday.

A witness saw one of the plane’s wings fall off before the aircraft plummeted.

Fire risks and rough terrain meant investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found it difficult to reach the crash site but on Wednesday a team of four got there.

“Rural fire service teams had completed clearing a helicopter landing site nearby. However, the site has not been accessible until today due to ongoing high winds,” a bureau spokesman said.

On the same day a Casa spokesman, Peter Gibson, announced that seven Dromaders had been grounded.

“It’s a precaution to make sure there aren’t any problems with the wings or other structures on the aircraft,” he said.

The aircraft were used for crop dusting in NSW and Queensland, Gibson said, and could be contracted for water bombing.

In April the bureau released a report after investigations into three fatal incidents involving Dromader aircraft.

On each occasion the aircraft were carrying increased weight and the bureau found associated safety risks, despite approval being granted for operation at takeoff weights of more than 4200kg.

The report outlined operating limitations under higher loads and recommended increased awareness among pilots.”

USFS awards scooper contract to Aero-Flite

The U.S. Forest Service awarded a contract today to Aero-Flite of Kingman, Arizona for one scooper air tanker.

CL-415. Photo by LA County Fire Department.
File photo of CL-415, courtesy of LA County Fire Department.

The U.S. Forest Service awarded a contract today to Aero-Flite of Kingman, Arizona for one scooper air tanker, an aircraft that can refill its tank by skimming along the surface of a lake. As Fire Aviation reported at the time, the solicitation was posted August 5, 2013 and closed August 19. In spite of the two week federal government shutdown it was awarded about 5 weeks after closing, a remarkably quick turnaround for USFS aircraft contracting. It took over 500 days to award the “next-gen” air tanker contracts.

The solicitation required the following: amphibious and scooping capability, turbine engines, 180-knot cruise speed, 1,600-gallon capacity, and 7 days a week coverage. It also has to have previous approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board. The specs appear to limit the qualifying aircraft to only the CL-415. The Be-200 could possibly meet the operational specs, but it does not have FAA or IAB approvals.

According to FedBizOpps.gov the dollar amount of the contract is $57 million. It is a five year deal with a provision to add a second aircraft if both parties agree.

Aero-Flite’s website says they have five Canadair CL-215 aircraft, and does not list a CL-415 in its inventory. Calls to company President Matthew Ziomek to obtain more details about the contract were not returned.

The CL-415 will be leased from TENAX Aerospace by Aero-Flite. It is a brand new aircraft and will be the only CL-415 in the United States.

In June Aero-Flite also received a contract from the U.S. Forest Service for two Avro RJ85 “next generation” air tankers but Conair has not yet completed the conversions for TENAX who will lease them to Areo-Flite. One of them, Tanker 160, has been seen in Canada undergoing flight tests in recent weeks.

UPDATE May 5, 2014: Aero-Flite’s CL-415 was designated Tanker 260.

Disney to release animated wildfire aviation movie

Disney has already released a trailer for a spin-off from “Planes”, titled “Planes: Fire and Rescue”.

Planes: Fire and Rescue trailer
Image from the trailer for Planes: Fire and Rescue

Apparently very pleased with how their animated movie Planes has done in the box office, Disney has already released a trailer for a spin-off titled Planes: Fire and Rescue. Due in theaters July 18, 2014, it again features Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) who this time leaves the world of racing to assist some airborne firefighters.

Planes Fire and Rescue trailer“Every day, they put their lives on the line,” you will hear in the trailer. “It takes honor, trust, and bravery to earn your wings”, and “They fly in, when others fly out.”