A company in New South Wales, Australia has purchased 11 military surplus helicopters and expects to convert some of them for aerial firefighting.
In December, 2017 when the Royal Australian Navy retired the last of their S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopters Skyline Aviation Group saw it as an opportunity. Eleven months later the Lake Macquarie based company had sealed a deal to acquire almost a dozen of the Seahawks. The last one was delivered on March 31, 2019.
Skyline hopes to have two of them ready to fight fire during this 2020-2021 bushfire season, but the company has not yet been awarded a contract.
One of the issues identified in the report from the Royal Commission about the devastating losses in the 2019-2020 fire season was the lack of a robust aerial firefighting fleet, both rotor and fixed wing. Below is an excerpt:
Australian, state, and territory governments should work together to continue to improve Australia’s collective, Australian-based and operated, aerial firefighting capabilities. Though we see merit in the continued use of overseas-based aviation services and air crew in some instances, Australia’s current reliance represents a vulnerability, as demonstrated during the 2019-2020 bushfire season.
The development of a modest Australian-based and registered national fleet of VLAT/LAT [Very large Airtanker/Large Air Tanker] aircraft and Type-1 helicopters, jointly funded by the Australian, state and territory governments, will enhance Australia’s bushfire resilience.
The majority of the providers we heard from told us that short contracts and minimal work during the off season make it unviable to invest in expensive aviation equipment. Contracts traditionally engage providers for 84 service days (70 in Tasmania) within the fire season, but we heard that more contracted service days would allow providers to invest in more equipment and offer greater value for money to fire agencies.
In the video below, Greg Piper, a member of parliament, and Deputy Premier of NSW, John Barilaro, toured the Skyline facility and inspected the Seahawks. Mr. Piper said he hopes that the state government will provide some “assistance”.