Opposition refers Large Air Tanker concerns to CASA

Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Hon Martin Aldridge has formally written to CASA’s Director of Aviation Safety seeking confirmation that the use of Large Air Tankers (LAT) remain safe and appropriate in firefighting operations.

“I have asked CASA to immediately review and confirm that operating conditions placed by the regulator on the use of such aircraft remain appropriate and safe,” Mr Aldridge said.

“You cannot ignore the fact that in just three years we have seen the catastrophic loss of two large air tankers in Australia and the tragic loss of three lives.”

Earlier this week, a converted passenger Boeing 737 collided with terrain in the Fitzgerald River National Park on the State’s south coast.

“According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), this was Australia’s first 737 impact with terrain resulting in the complete destruction of the airframe,” Mr Aldridge said.

“It is astounding and an enormous relief that the two pilots on board walked away from the crash with only minor injuries.

“737 aircraft are among our safest aircraft in the world, however flying large aircraft at low attitude over unpredictable fire events is not without risk.”

Mr Aldridge said the use of LAT’s in an Australian context does not have a long history.

“Western Australia has 36 aircraft in its firefighting fleet, of which 19 are dedicated water bombing aircraft,” he said.

“In the 2021-22 fire season, LAT’s accounted for just 7% of total water or retardant dropped by DFES and DBCA aircraft.”

Mr Aldridge said community safety must be paramount in any consideration of how these aircraft are used now and into the future.

“It is not my intention to reduce the State’s capability, in fact I have been critical of the State’s lack of preparedness ahead of a predicted above-average fire season potential.

“In line with the DFES vision ‘For a Safer State’, it is critical that we have confidence that our capability is safe, not just for those who fly these aircraft in challenging conditions but for firefighters on the ground and the community.

“Whilst this incident occurred in a remote part of Western Australia, the consequences could have been catastrophic if it had occurred in a different environment.”

Mr Aldridge was formerly an Air Observer in the Air Intelligence Unit of the then Fire and Emergency Services Authority, the predecessor to DFES.