CFA's Ballarat air fleet cut ahead of summer bushfire season

Crews from the 2019/20 aerial firefighting season in Ballarat.
Crews from the 2019/20 aerial firefighting season in Ballarat.

Ballarat will have one less aerial firefighting supervision aircraft this summer and a single 'swing shift' combining the previous morning and afternoon shifts of aircrew after the state government confirmed its plans for aerial fire attack for the summer bushfire period.

Last month local firefighters expressed concern about plans to redeploy one of the three firefighting helicopters based at Ballarat, to Gippsland for the coming season, and the cut in hours to operate from 1pm to 9pm, meaning ground crews fighting fires before 1pm are unlikely to have water bombing aircraft available for support.

While the firebombing helicopter capability remains the same as last year, one supervision aircraft will be redeployed away from Ballarat.

Instead of one air attack supervision aircraft operating during the day and another at night, a single air attack supervision aircraft will provide both day and night capability this summer season.

"Emergency Management Victoria works closely with the emergency services sector to ensure appropriate strategic positioning of aircraft and other firefighting assets to keep Victorians safe," said Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp.

"For the Ballarat area, these arrangements will enable firebombing aircraft to operate from early afternoon through until later into the night. Usual supporting arrangements from aircraft located in adjoining locations will continue.

"This capability will be supported by supervision aircraft. The firebombing helicopter at Ballarat for this year is the same aircraft as last year."

The water bombing helicopter will continue to help fight local fires from its base at Ballarat Airport. Picture: Lachlan Bence

The water bombing helicopter will continue to help fight local fires from its base at Ballarat Airport. Picture: Lachlan Bence

The two aircraft based at Ballarat are among a record 51 aircraft that will take to the skies to help fight fires and help keep communities safe.

They are also among a handful of specialist night-vision enabled aircraft that can conduct firebombing and intelligence operations after dark, with the night firefighting program pioneered at Ballarat over the past three summers.

Ballarat's aviation fire fleet operates on a PDD - pre-determined dispatch - system meaning that when there is a high fire danger rating, aircraft are deployed to a fire at the same time as ground crews. But under the proposed changes they won't be deployed until after 1pm.

However the later start will allow night water bombing crews to operate later in to the night.

Two Large Air Tankers, which can carry up to 15,000 litres of water, foam or retardant, and two 7500-litre Aircranes, will contribute to the 51 aircraft in the core-fleet and provide essential support to other aircraft across the state.

Victoria's emergency services are preparing for a normal fire season across the state. However, the location, timing and amount of spring rainfall is likely to affect fire potential around Ballarat and in the western half of the state.

Planned burns are underway in the region to help reduce the amount of grasses and fuel ahead of the warmer weather, with a 21 hectare burn ignited on Thursday north west of Daylesford which is expected to run for several days.

This story CFA's Ballarat air fleet cut first appeared on The Courier.