Posted on 08. Sep, 2010 in Election Media Release, News

Two new faster and more flexible large fire bombing planes will be trialled as part of Victoria’s firefighting arsenal which will also be boosted by the use of night vision helicopter goggles and infrared imaging technology.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings today announced that the Victorian Government would invest $12 million for two new Convair 580 fire bomber planes, a new Erikson Aircrane and four extra fixed-wing aircraft for the upcoming fire season.

The new aircraft will join Erikson Aircranes Elvis and Elsie and bring Victoria’s aerial firefighting arsenal to 48 with a further 170 aircraft on standby if required.

The trial of the two new fire bombers will replace a trial last year of a Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) following an assessment by the National Bushfire Co-Operative Research Centre that its use was less effective in Victorian firefighting terrain.

Mr Jennings said the new Convair fire bombers had the capacity to carry and drop 8000 litres of water or fire retardant and will be deployed at airfields around the state wherever needed to provide flexibility to firefighting efforts.

“We have made big changes to how we prepare for and fight fires since the tragic Black Saturday and Gippsland fires, including investing over $1 billion towards the firefighting and reconstruction effort,” Mr Jennings said.

“Our Government’s strong economic management means that our State Budget has the capacity to fund new measures as we undertake fundamental reforms to make our State as fire-safe and fire-ready as possible.

“These aircraft can refill very quickly, delivering rapid response which can significantly increase their impact during fires especially in the crucial early stages of an outbreak.

”The great advantage of these aircraft is the flexibility they provide in firefighting. They are proven first attack aircraft and can travel at fast speeds of up to 500km/h which means they can reach fires anywhere in the state in about 30 minutes.

“Each Convair 580 bomber can carry 8000 litres of water or fire retardant and two of them can be used to fight fires in tandem, which is a big advantage in tackling fires.

“In addition, our airfleet will receive the use of at least four more fixed wing aircraft which will be used for the faster detection of new fires and the observation of existing fires. Elvis and Elsie will be joined by a new Erikson Aircrane.”

Mr Jennings said the trial conducted by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Council (CRC) over the last fire season showed that the DC 10 VLAT was not suitable for Victorian conditions, in particular use around the urban interface.

“The VLAT Project Control Board considered the findings from the Bushfire CRC which found the aircraft would be less effective in suppressing Victorian bushfires and would not be suitable for use around the urban interface where the forest meets communities of relatively high populations,” Mr Jennings said.

“This was because the VLAT, which can carry more than 40 tonnes of water or retardant, was found to have the potential to cause serious injury should the load fall on a person. There was also the potential for the aircraft to destroy the property it was attempting to protect.

“The testing found that under even mild fire weather conditions retardant lines put down by the VLAT did not provide a significant barrier to the spread of fires in grass or forest.

“It was also determined the aircraft was limited in its use in Victoria because it could only be based at Avalon airfield and could not land or take off at any regional airfield that might be closer to a fire.

“The findings were assessed in conjunction with a report by Deloitte which found the aircraft was a significantly higher cost option than other aircraft.”

“As a result the Bushfire CRC made specific recommendations to Government that the VLAT should not be commissioned.”

Mr Jennings said the funding would be used to upgrade Victoria’s aircraft dispatch system over the next four years to provide more rapid dispatch of aircraft around the state.

“The State Aircraft Unit will also trial a high tech intelligence platform, an ‘eye in the sky’ to transmit fire data back to Incident Control Centres, providing faster and better real-time information on a fire’s progress,” he said.

“New airborne infrared cameras attached to a number of our helicopters will replace outdated equipment and allow pinpoint hotspot mapping and real time video streaming in difficult conditions, such as thick smoke.

“Up to $100,000 has been committed to continuing the development of night vision goggle operations this fire season. The trial which will assist firefighters to safely fly night missions and expand night-time planned burning.

“It is imperative that we continue to test the boundaries of aerial detection and suppression in order to make Victoria as fire ready as we possibly can.”

The Convair 580s are expected to arrive in Victoria later this year and will be based at airports around Melbourne and throughout the state including Avalon, Mangalore, Sale and Mildura

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