Emails reveal limitations to flying firefighters in Black Hawks

The RFS has as an alternative determined to spend $6.5 million – which was initially dedicated to refitting the Black Hawks – on two Bell 412 helicopters, which will likely be operational this bushfire season.

Three months after plans for the Black Hawks have been unveiled in June 2018, Mr Rogers, who was then deputy commissioner, emailed the Civil Aviation Security Authority to verify there have been no “showstoppers” from a “regulation perspective”.

Rural Fire Service commissioner Rob Rogers, left, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Rural Hearth Service commissioner Rob Rogers, left, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.Credit score:Nick Moir

In an indication of his rising frustrations with the regulator later, Mr Rogers emailed CASA in February final yr to say he wanted to “perceive we will work by the problems” earlier than accepting a helicopter and committing NSW authorities funds.

“The important thing purpose of those plane is to move firefighters to areas to be on standby for lightning strikes,” he wrote. “As such, having the usual restricted-category plane certification isn’t a lot use to us, until we’re certain we will get previous the ‘passenger’ situation.”

The emails and letters, launched to Labor below freedom of knowledge legal guidelines, present Mr Rogers requested additional readability from CASA in July final yr so he may advise the NSW authorities “as to the viability of the gifted helicopters to satisfy our hole in operational functionality”.

However in a letter to Mr Rogers in September final yr, a senior CASA official stated the physique was of the view that the rules didn’t allow a restricted class plane such because the Black Hawks getting used to fly individuals from one location to a different for floor firefighting.

The Rural Fire Service's large air tanker named the Marie Bashir.

The Rural Hearth Service’s giant air tanker named the Marie Bashir.Credit score:RFS

“CASA considers the usage of a restricted class helicopter in passenger-carrying operation creates an unacceptable danger to security,” the CASA official wrote.

The senior official stated plane designed to army specs “historically didn’t cowl areas resembling passenger security to the identical extent because the civil requirements”.

The RFS continues to face hurdles to utilizing its flagship water bomber to move firefighters this bushfire season. The Boeing 737 – named the Marie Bashir – has been fitted to ferry as much as 72 firefighters however can’t accomplish that as a result of CASA is but to present regulatory approval.

Labor emergency providers spokeswoman Trish Doyle stated bushfires wouldn’t look forward to the NSW authorities to be ready for the Black Hawks to be prepared.

“This hole in our firefighting functionality must be urgently crammed,” she stated. “This may guarantee NSW not solely has a succesful aerial firefighting drive, however that we’re prepared with the pilots, infrastructure and logistics to deploy the Black Hawks when they’re ultimately refitted for civilian use.”

However Emergency Companies Minister David Elliott stated the federal government had funded the acquisition of the 2 Bell 412 helicopters, which had already enhanced the RFS’s operational functionality.


“The NSW authorities will proceed to help the NSW RFS as a part of their discussions with [CASA] in relation to growing a public-usage class for the Black Hawk plane,” he stated.

The RFS stated it will hold working with CASA to develop a public-usage class for the Black Hawks, much like that employed within the US, and was planning to take supply of two helicopters from Defence in 2022.

Requested whether or not flying firefighters within the helicopters would create an unacceptable danger, the RFS stated Black Hawks have been used extensively, notably within the US, to move firefighters and tools.

“The NSW RFS has and continues to keep up a stringent security tradition according to business greatest apply and doesn’t consider the usage of the Black Hawk plane poses any unacceptable danger to security,” an RFS spokesman stated.

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