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.

Tanker 391’s missions during the Australian summer

t-391 RJ85 Australia

While Conair’s Tanker 391, an RJ85, was in Australia during their 2016-2017 summer, it delivered more than 450,000 liters (119,000 gallons) of retardant, foam and gel onto fires in Victoria and New South Wales for Vic Emergency, Forest Fire Management Victoria, CFA (Country Fire Authority), NSW Rural Fire Service, and other agencies. The aircraft has now returned to Canada.

(Above Graphic by RJ85 Australia)

The photo below won 3rd prize in the Professional category in the 12th Annual Dahl Mountain Photo Competition in Rapid City in which there were 215 entries. The photo shows an RJ85 air tanker making a retardant drop on the Crow Peak Fire near Spearfish, South Dakota June 27, 2016. The image below may show the price “starting at $0.00”. That of course is not correct. Click on it to get more information.

Art Prints

Air tankers at Avalon, Victoria

Bomber 391

Above: Bomber 391 at Avalon, Victoria. Photo by Avalon Airport.

Two air tankers from North America have recently started their contracts in Victoria during the Australian summer. Known as Tanker 131 when working in the United States, Coulson’s C-130Q is designated as Bomber 390 while working for Emergency Management Victoria. One of Conair’s RJ85s is known down under as Bomber 391.

The aircraft will be based at the Avalon Airport in southeast Australia, southwest of Melbourne.

Bomber 390
Bomber 390 at Avalon, Victoria, with Bomber 391 in the background. Photo by Avalon Airport.