A number of Moree pilots and maintenance crews have been doing their bit to help control the devastating bushfires that have been raging across NSW and Queensland over the past weeks and months.
Moree's Aircair Aviation has had planes and pilots involved in firebombing operations since August this year and currently all six of its AT802 aircraft are deployed to help control fires still burning across both states. There are currently more than 120 bush and grass fires burning across NSW and another 60 in Queensland.
Four of Aircair Aviation's planes and pilots are currently deployed in Armidale, while two are helping with the fires in Bundaberg, Queensland. Meanwhile nine ground crew staff are busy loading aircraft, with two in Grafton, two in Armidale, two in Coffs Harbour, two at Richmond airport and one at Newcastle airport. A fuel truck is also operating on a full-time basis.
A total of nine pilots and about 10 ground crew from Aircair Aviation have been involved in firebombing operations on a two-week rotating roster, and owner David Warburton expects this will continue for some time to come.
"Usually the busiest month for fires is January, so we may be only halfway through; until it rains really," he said.
Aircair Aviation has two planes contracted to the NSW Rural Fire Service and two to the Queensland Rural Fire Service, while the other two are utilised on a call when needed basis. The AT802 is able to drop 3000 litres of water, foam or retardant in one pass if required, however Mr Warburton said it's rare that aircraft actually put out a fire.
"Our role is usually more about helping ground crews by getting there sooner," he said.
"We might get called to a fire as a first responder if the ground crew can't get there.
"Otherwise we'll be involved in containment or asset protection, so if there's homes near fire we might put fire retardant down and if it's bushland, we'll use gel to cool fires down or support the containment line."
With two million hectares of land burned in more than 7000 fires in NSW since July, six people dead and close to 700 homes destroyed, Mr Warburton said it's been one of the worst bushfire seasons he's seen.
"In a normal year, it's something we do a bit of on a sporadic basis, but this year it's been really intense; it's unrelenting," he said.
Mr Warburton will be speaking about his firebombing experiences at the Moree Aero Club's pilots' dinner this Friday, December 6.