Victoria has gained approval to conduct night-time firebombing operations next fire season after successfully completing an Australian-first trial last month.
The need for firebombing was never more evident than the recent fire in western Victoria, which flared at dusk and raged all night.
Firefighters on the ground had no air support to help battle conditions veteran firefighters said were the worst they had seen.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has approved Mangalore-based Kestrel Aviation as well as Coulson Aviation to undertake night aerial fire suppression operations in Australia.
Coulson Aviation became the first in Australia to successfully conduct night fire suppression operations including hover filling from open water sources using night vision goggles.
Kestrel Aviation has also been part of the trial and gained CASA approval to operate night operations by refilling while landed on the ground.
Kestrel recently successfully completed night-time hover fills, concluding the Victorian trial, however this component is still to be assessed by CASA.
Emergency management commissioner Craig Lapsley said the approvals were a key milestone and meant Victoria, on behalf of other states and territories, could continue to work through the implementation of night fire suppression in preparation for the 2018–19 fire season.
“The ability to fight fires at night is a game-changer and this is a fantastic outcome,” he said.
“It is a key milestone in an ongoing trial that Victoria has been undertaking with both operators to develop capability to attack wildfires in the late afternoon and into the night using night vision goggles.”
The approvals mean that Victoria now needs to develop the policies and procedures to ensure night fire operations can be undertaken safely in real fire situations as they were in the tightly controlled trial conditions.
Mr Lapsley said the process to date had been a valuable experience to bring the issues associated with the safety of night aerial bombing together with the integration into on-ground firefighting.
“We’ll continue to test into the next summer exactly what conditions and processes are required for night operations to be undertaken safely using the helicopters that have been approved.”