National sovereign Large Air Tanker boosts bushfire protection ahead of summer

Thursday 09 September, 2021

A Large Air Tanker (LAT) will be based in Australia on year-round standby for aerial assaults on bushfires across the country following a $4 million boost by the Morrison Government to better protect lives and property.

Increased annual Australian Government funding for the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) – now totalling more than $30m – will ensure additional resources are available to support and safeguard firefighters on the ground during catastrophic blazes.

Emergency Services Minister Vincent Tarzia welcomed the new heavy-duty water bomber and cash boost, which is in addition to the $10.2m provided by the Marshall Liberal Government for aerial firefighting in the 2021/22 State Budget.

The LAT will reduce Australia’s reliance on overseas assets and, in combination with a sophisticated fleet of more than 150 specialised, highly mobile aircraft positioned around the country, offers greater protection for all communities.

“Aerial firefighting assets like the LAT make a huge difference during bushfires when lives and property are on the line,” Minister Tarzia said.

“I hope we never see the LAT flying in South Australian skies, but it’s reassuring to know the capability will be available when needed.

“Aerial firefighting assets are so important for South Australia to support our volunteer and staff firefighters on the ground.

“During the last bushfire season, we saw aerial firefighting assets used with great efficiency at Lucindale and Cherry Gardens.

“There were 728 aerial drops made during the 2020/21 bushfire season and our aerial firefighting assets were in operation for about 660 hours, equating to 27 full days of service.”

The make and model of the LAT will be announced at a later date, while further announcements about South Australia’s aerial firefighting fleet are expected in coming weeks.

In January 2020, an Erickson Aero MD-87 air tanker flew into Edinburgh Airport and was stationed in South Australia 50 days during the bushfire season.

That bomber has an 11,350-litre capacity tank to drop retardant, gel or foam.

The securement of the latest LAT is in response to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Final Report, and recommendation for an aerial firefighting capability that can be tasked according to the greatest national need.

Following an Independent Review into the tragic 2019/20 bushfire season – conducted by former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty AO – the Marshall Government has invested $97.5m to strengthen South Australia’s bushfire resilience.

The Keelty Review response is providing additional support and resources for volunteers, including extra staff and equipment, better protection for critical assets, enhanced communications, state-of-the-art technology and improved mental health assistance for the Emergency Services Sector.