Night fire aviation program to continue over summer

24 December 2019

Victoria’s night fire aviation program over the 2019-20 summer will continue to trial the use of night vision technology for firebombing operations at night.

Night operations has the potential to significantly improve Victoria’s firefighting capability by building on the work done during the day to contain fires and provide vital intelligence to incident controllers.

The program over this summer seeks to build on the knowledge gained in previous years about how night firebombing can be integrated into existing control arrangements, as well as trial the use of first attack on simulated fires at night.

Pending critical safety considerations, the trial could potentially expand to include responding to new fires at pre-determined locations, negating the requirement for day reconnaissance missions. As this is a new component of the night aviation program it will be done in very controlled circumstances.

Aircraft will be based at Ballarat and Mangalore airports and have the ability to be deployed across the state.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the trial would see aircraft deployed to a range of fire scenarios so that learning opportunities would be maximised.

“The night aviation program is still very much a trial and we need to ensure that it is done in a safe and effective way.

“Currently night crews need to complete reconnaissance flights during the afternoon before water bombing flights during the night. This year we will consider the requirement for day reconnaissance missions and look to explore first response to new fires at pre-determined locations.

“The community needs to understand this is still very much a trial and safety of crews will always be our first consideration. If we’re not confident it’s safe, our aircraft will not fly at night.

“Water bombing helicopters will continue to work with a tactical helicopters which will provide support through direction and intelligence.”

The trial over the 2019-20 summer will also focus more on intelligence gathering missions which can provide more reliable information to incident controllers to guide their decision-making.

The trial also includes a research component, which will consider the physical and mental parameters of aircrew involved in night operations.

Night firebombing will occur on fires where it can add value to fire operations, or in circumstances where the experience can help build or improve the night firebombing capability. It will only be used on the right fires and in the right circumstances.

Emergency Management Victoria is partnering with Forest Fire Management Victoria and CFA. The trial is supported by and builds on a strong partnership with Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, Victorian, interstate and overseas agencies.

The outcome of this the 2019-20 program will guide the future use of night fire aviation operations in Victoria.