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Urgent approvals for firefighting aircraft

On 4 January 2020, as Australia grappled with a devastating bushfire season, the Prime Minister announced that the Government was preparing to lease additional waterbombing aircraft for the states and territories to deploy in firefighting efforts.

The additional units would comprise two long-range fixed-wing aircraft (DC-10s) with 36,000 litres capacity, and two medium-range fixed-wing large air tankers with 11,000 litres capacity.

From 5 January, under the coordination of the Southern Region office, CASA teams across the country worked together to provide urgent approvals for the firefighting aircraft.

Once the operators of the aircraft had been confirmed, CASA commenced preparations for the entry control process. This involved providing an air operator certificate variation for AGAIR Pty Ltd, to add two DC-10s, and an air operator certificate renewal for Erickson Aero Tankers Australia LLC, to include up to five DC-9-87 aircraft. CASA concurrently processed applications for the addition of a C525 Citation and a B200 King Air aircraft to be flown by specialist pilots from the United States.

Civil Aviation Act 1988 section 28A agreements with the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were completed within 48 hours. These agreements are formalised jurisdictional arrangements for maintenance and flying operations.

Other authorisations issued or continued included air operator certificates for two operators, Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASR) Part 137 exemptions for the use of transport category aircraft in aerial application operations, exemptions from licensing requirements of CASR Part 61 for FAA pilots, chief pilot approvals, and flight check system approvals for the DC-9 and DC-10 aircraft.

CASA also processed training and checking approvals, for three type specialists for the DC-10 to support the AGAIR chief pilot responsibilities, and certificates of validation for FAA-licensed pilots to operate the Australian (lead plane) aircraft.

The last permissions were issued as the aircraft began their transit from the United States on 16 January.

CASA had handled a similar high-priority task in November 2019, when the first DC-10 air tanker was requested by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. The aircraft authorisations, including the FAA agreement, were in place within five working days.

CASA actively supported aerial firefighting efforts across the country in the summer of 2019–20. It assessed and approved 19 operators to use 58 foreign aircraft in Australia including two DC-9s and two DC-10s, two B737 air tankers, a Black Hawk and a Russian Kazan MIL-8 helicopter.

The ability to work directly across the various divisions within CASA resulted in huge efficiencies in communication and workflow, despite the active workload demands each day.

CASA collaboration on urgent firefighting aircraft. photograph of two Erickson Aero Tankers
© Erickson Aero Tankers Australia LLC