Queensland has secured a deal to share a large air tanker (LAT) with Victoria until the end of the 2024 bushfire season.
The $15 million deal will mean the large air tanker returns to Queensland for the next few months, and will stay in Australia for the next four years, as part of a co-sharing arrangement with Victoria.
Victoria’s bushfire season aligns with what is seasonally Queensland’s storm and cyclone period.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the LAT was an important asset for the state to fight bushfires. It adds to a fleet of 150 other national aerial firefighting assets, including planes and helicopters that are deployed on an on-call basis.
“The LAT was used a number of times with great effect last bushfire season. We want to ensure our firies are able to call on the LAT as soon as it’s required – this deal locks in the future of this aerial asset in Queensland,” the premier said.
Under previous arrangements, the Bombardier Dash-8 Q400AT LAT was the only such plane in the country available for the duration of Queensland’s three-month bushfire season, which begins in September each year.
Now the LAT and its crew will be based in Bundaberg and, according to fire and emergency services minister Mark Ryan, is part of the government’s commitment to support Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES).
“This will deliver certainty and efficiencies because QFES will no longer need to contract a LAT on a season-by-season arrangement,” Ryan said.
“Queensland asks a lot of our firefighters when bushfires strike, so it is only right they have the resources to respond effectively.”
Another LAT, based in NSW, is also available for on-call support should Queensland need it.
Victorian energy and environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio said that the advantage of having the shared aircraft with Queensland was that the Bombardier Dash-8 Q400AT, which is manned by two crew members, could be operated from smaller regional airports.
The 31,000kg LAT has a loaded cruise speed of up to 670km/h and requires about 1,500m of runway to take off.
“This aircraft can be operated at smaller regional airports as it requires less room for take-off and landing,” the minister said.
During Queensland’s last bushfire season the LAT delivered 40 drops of retardant to help maintain fire containment lines.
Greg Leach, Queensland’s fire and emergency services commissioner, said that the aircraft with its 10,000 litre retardant capacity, had demonstrated its value to the QFES.
He added that basing the LAT at Bundaberg Airport made sense when it was in Queensland because it meant it could respond to firefighting needs along the coastline and inland.
“From its base in Bundaberg, it can reach either Proserpine in the north, the Queensland-New South Wales border in the south or Tambo in the west within one hour,” Leach said.
“Along with our dedicated personnel and purpose-built equipment, the aerial fleet puts us in a great position as we gear up for the 2021 bushfire season.”