The first of four Large Airtankers (LATs) – an Erickson Aero MD 87 – arrived in Australia this morning to boost aerial firefighting capability during the ongoing bushfire emergency.

The other three specially designed LATs from the United States – two McDonnell Douglas DC-10s and another MD 87 airtanker – will arrive in Australia over the next week and be positioned strategically around the country. They will each be leased for a minimum of 50 days.

The LATs will be initially based in Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.

The DC-10 has a 35,600-litre capacity tank, while the MD 87 bomber can drop 11,350 litres of retardant, providing a weight of attack and speed of deployment not matched by smaller firebombing aircraft. Both can travel at speeds of over 650 km/h.

The LATs add significant additional capability to the highly specialised fleet of over 150 contracted aircraft procured through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), a business unit of AFAC. The fleet is contracted to meet the requirements of state and territory fire agencies.

Stuart Ellis is the Chief Executive Officer of AFAC, the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services.

We welcome and thank the federal government for their funding contributions to NAFC, which has enabled the procurement of these additional airtankers in support of the states and territories and increases the Large Airtanker fleet in Australia to 11.

These aircraft have the capability to deploy across Australia, providing infrastructure protection and laying retardant lines to limit the spread of the fires. They are a truly national capability,” Mr. Ellis said.

AFAC works closely with its 31 member agencies across all Australian states and territories to facilitate resource sharing of aircraft, firefighters and specialists to enable the national response to large scale emergency events.

In all, more than 500 aircraft are available for aerial firefighting including contracted and ‘on call’ aircraft. On busy days, over 250 aircraft are regularly in operations.

Firefighting aircraft across Australia are supported through ARENA, an innovative NAFC software system that tracks the national fleet, their capability and availability of resources in real time.

‘The additional Large Airtankers will provide very welcome assistance to our firefighters on the ground,” said Mr. Richard Alder, General Manager of NAFC.