World's water bombing fleet idle as Australia burns

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Scott Morrison's Government is yet to acquire more water bombers to combat the country-wide fires (screenshot via YouTube).

In April last year, 23 former fire and emergency services chiefs attempted to warn Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the devastating bushfire season ahead.

That the danger was truly unprecedented and that the fires could be completely catastrophic for a landscape already struggling with drought and the effects of climate change.

Having additional waterbombers was one of the key recommendations made by the former chiefs, knowing from experience the immediate dramatic effect they can have on fighting a fire, saving homes and property.

With the vast majority of the world’s waterbomber fleet based in the northern hemisphere to deal with fires within that region, at this moment the vast majority are in hangars in the midst of the winter or even surrounded by snow. Not conditions they are going to be required in any time soon.

Hundreds of fire fighting aircraft are quite literally sitting there in hangars gathering dust waiting for the Northern Hemisphere fire season to come around, before once again roaring back into life.

Being a southern hemisphere nation with our seasons flipped, during our summer Australia can often lease as many water bombers as we need because there is almost no competition. The owners of the aircraft including the U.S and Canadian governments would much rather have them out there saving lives and earning back their summertime operational costs, than just sitting there doing nothing.

The only real issue is cost.

While the cost of leasing or buying a waterbombing aircraft is naturally quite high, costing millions of dollars or more, it has become abundantly clear in recent weeks that the cost of not having them is even higher.

With so many fires across the country, aerial support for our firefighters has been in extremely high demand. Calls on the radio of fire services across the country that no air support is currently available to help save a town have unfortunately become all too common.

If the recommendation of the former fire and emergency services chiefs had of been heeded and a much greater number of waterbombing aircraft were made available to fight the fires this catastrophic bushfire season, it’s not hard to imagine their assistance proving invaluable.

After months of pressure and the eyes of the world turning to Australia in dismay at the scale of our bushfire crisis, the Morrison Government has finally somewhat acquiesced to calls for additional waterbombing aircraft.

With bushfires stretching from southern Western Australia to northern NSW, the Prime Minister decided that four additional waterbombers will be leased to assist firefighters at a cost of $20 million.

While these additional resources will no doubt be of assistance on a tactical level, one can’t help but see this as somewhat akin to trying to put out a 30-foot high raging bushfire with a garden hose.

In June last year, the Indonesian Government made an order for seven large waterbombers from a Canadian manufacturer, recognising their obvious potential to be of great assistance in their fire fighting efforts.

Meanwhile, Australia owns one large waterbomber which belongs to the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Ultimately lives and homes are at risk, they have been for months. And the resources to assist our brave firefighters are sitting in hangars gathering dust, because the Morrison Government lacks either the extra cash or the will to see them brought to Australia to help.

One can only hope that changes, because if the forecasts coming out of the various fire services prove as accurate as they have so far, things may get worse as we head toward the hottest part of summer.

Tarric Brooker is a freelance journalist and political commentator.

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