Night time firebombing approved

Helicopter water bombing at night

3 April 2018

Victoria has gained approval to conduct night time firebombing operations next summer season after successfully completing an Australian-first trial last month. 

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has approved Coulson Aviation and Kestrel Aviation to undertake night aerial fire suppression operations to be undertaken in Australia. 

Both companies have been part of a night fire suppression trial led by Emergency Management Victoria in Ballarat this summer. 

Coulson Aviation became the first in Australia to successfully conduct night fire suppression operations including hover filling from open water sources using night vision goggles. 

Kestrel Aviation has also been part of the trial and gained CASA approval to operate night operations by refilling while landed on the ground. 

Kestrel Aviation has recently successfully completed night-time hover fills, concluding the Victorian trial, however this component is still to be assessed by CASA. 

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the approvals were a key milestone and meant Victoria, on behalf of other states and territories, could continue to work through the implementation of night fire suppression in preparation for the 2018-19 fire season. 

“The ability to fight fires at night is a game-changer and this is a fantastic outcome,” he said. 

“It is a key milestone in an ongoing trial that Victoria has been undertaking with both operators to develop capability to attack wildfires in the late afternoon and into the night using night vision goggles.” 

The approvals mean that Victoria now needs to develop the policies and procedures to ensure night fire operations can be undertaken safely in real fire situations as it was in the tightly controlled trial conditions. 

Mr Lapsley said the process to date had been a valuable experience as to bring the issues associated with the safety of night aerial bombing together with the integration into on ground firefighting. 

“We’ll continue to test into the next summer exactly what conditions and processes are required for night operations to be undertaken safely using the helicopters that have been approved,” he said. 

The successful Ballarat trial has been conducted in partnership with CFA, DELWP and CASA. Both of the approved operators are already contracted to undertake aviation firefighting during the day in Victoria. 

“I want to acknowledge the fantastic support and commitment that CASA has made to work with the operators and Victorian agencies to assess the merits of the flight activities proposed, and to support in field trials that were recently undertaken - all of which was necessary to allow these important approvals to be made,” Mr Lapsley said. 

Coulson Aviation embarked on a mission to establish a night firefighting capability after the 2009 Black Saturday fires and more recently the Wye River fires. 

Victoria will now continue to work with Coulson Aviation and Kestrel, undertaking further trial work to help develop a deeper understanding of how night aerial fire attack can be integrated into current on ground firefighting practices in a safe and effective way.