26 September 2023

Half a century of flying to keep State safe

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The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has marked the 50th anniversary of Western Australia’s bushfire aerial detection fleet.

The fleet of planes, flown by skilled pilots, has been helping to seek out bushfires as part of the State’s Early Bushfire Detection Network since 1972.

In a statement, the Department said the aerial spotter fleet contributed to the broader Western Australian aerial fleet that also included water-bombing aircraft and air intelligence helicopters managed jointly by the Department and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

“From humble beginnings in early 1972 as a trial with just one hired Cessna 150 plane, the current fleet consists of 10 American Champion Scout aircraft flown by three full-time pilots and several seasonal pilots,” the Department said.

“The fleet operates out of four main bases across the south-west — Jandakot, Bunbury, Manjimup and Albany — providing critical information to fire controllers from about 350 bushfires each year.”

It said the planes flew in pre-determined district circuits according to weather conditions, each covering 110 nautical miles or about 215 kilometres.

“The fleet also provides search and rescue support to the community and is used in scientific work such as radio tracking for fauna projects,” the Department said.

“It is supported by 13 fire lookout towers and satellite technology used to detect and monitor fires in the Early Bushfire Detection Network.”

Minister for Emergency Services, Stephen Dawson said that with the past summer as an example, the severity and frequency of bushfires across the State’s south continued to have serious and life-threatening impacts.

“Over the past 50 years, the fire detection services of these aircraft and pilots have saved lives and homes from the effects of bushfire thanks to the information they relay back to incident controllers,” Mr Dawson said.

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