During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Wednesday 9 August 2023, I asked about aerial firefighting equipment.
You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).
Mr BERKMAN: Thanks for your time today. I will go to Commissioner Leach first, if I might. There is a reference in Budget Paper 4 to increased funding over three years, held centrally, to enhance Queensland’s aerial firefighting capability under additional National Aerial Firefighting Centre contracts. Am I right, first of all, that that is the $17 million the minister referred to?
Commissioner Leach: Yes, correct.
Mr BERKMAN: Are you able to clarify for me that that section of the budget paper refers to additional suppressant delivery aircraft—I think that is reasonably self-explanatory—but also additional
intelligence-gathering aircraft platforms? Are you able to clarify what exactly is meant by those terms and who those contracts will be with?
Commissioner Leach: Sure. The exact figure is $17.58 million over three years. That is to improve our aerial firefighting capability. Currently we have over 150 call-when-needed aircraft and we also have contracted aircraft via the National Aerial Firefighting Centre that you mentioned previously. We use aircraft for a range of different functions: performing water-bombing operations; airborne coordination, so command and control from the air; line-scanning capability, where we fly aircraft to map a fire line; and intelligence-gathering functions. This funding will provide an increase in our baseline aerial firefighting capability by increasing the number of NAFC contracted aircraft from 10 to 13, so there will be an additional three aircraft come online. They will be available for the 2023-24 bushfire season. To give you a sense of some of the aircraft coming online, there will be: two fixed-wing waterbombing aircraft; two Helitack water-bombing helicopters; two air attack platforms, one helicopter and one fixed-wing, and they will be stationed at the Toowoomba air base; and two of the new ones for this year are fixed-wing scooping bombers that will be positioned in South-East Queensland. These are aircraft that do not have to land to be refilled. They can fly low and slow and refill themselves off a large water mass and keep going, so obviously the turnaround times for those aircraft are much quicker than landing and refilling. We are also putting on a specialist intelligence-gathering rotary wing platform that will be based out of Toowoomba and, of course, we have our Large Air Tanker that will be back again and based in Bundaberg this year. The third of the new three for this year includes line-scanning capability, which is not a function that we have had directly ourselves. We have relied on a national aircraft from northern New South Wales to perform that function for Queensland previously.
Mr BERKMAN: You touched on our access to Large Air Tankers. Can you advise the committee how many days per year—for example, just over the coming fire season—the government has
contracted access to an LAT during this period and at what cost?
Commissioner Leach: The Large Air Tanker is contracted for 84 days starting 1 September. It is the same Q400AT aircraft that we have used successfully in the last couple of years. It will be based out of Bundaberg again. It is able to carry 10,000 litres of firefighting retardant or firefighting gel. We have this unique contractual arrangement where, when the aircraft concludes with us at the end of our
bushfire season, it moves, after a shoulder period, to Victoria where it assists with their bushfire season down south. That has been a very effective platform for us the last couple of years and it will be back
again this year.Mr BERKMAN: Apologies if I missed the specific figure, but is there a number of days that we have contractual access to that?
Commissioner Leach: Yes, 84 days. There is a two-week shoulder period. When our 84 days finishes there is 14 days before it is due to commence in Victoria so we could continue the contract for a further 14 days and, depending on what is happening with the Victorian bushfire season, if we needed to we could potentially negotiate to hang onto it beyond that. We also have access to the national Large Air Tanker fleet and New South Wales Rural Fire Service run a Large Air Tanker of their own. We have used that in Queensland on a number of occasions. There is a network of Large Air Tankers that we
can tap into.