Close sidebar
world of aviation logo

NSW to acquire its own large air tanker

written by WOFA | December 17, 2018

The New South Wales state government plans to acquire its own large air tanker (LAT), which will be the first of its kind to be permanently based in Australia.

Until now both the NSW and Victorian state governments have leased air tankers from overseas – six are currently in Australia for the 2018-19 fire season comprising one Boeing 737, two Lockheed C-130s and three Avro RJ85s.

Minister for Emergency Services Troy Grant said NSW would acquire its own LAT as well as two fixed-wing “scanning aircraft”.

“This major funding injection will fortify our fleet into the future and provide year-round long-range aerial firefighting capabilities to complement our existing aviation resources,” Grant said on November 16 (we missed the announcement at the time, but thought it still worth reporting on – Ed).

“With longer bushfire seasons comes the increasing threat of severe fires, which is why the NSW government is leading the way by providing our firies with the very best resources to help protect lives and properties.”

The LAT would also be available for other state government jurisdictions to use, Grant said.


Given the $26.3 million budget, the large air tanker is likely to be a converted secondhand aircraft, according to contributor Bill Gabbert.

“I don’t see how the LAT could be new,” he wrote in a December 14 post.

But options could include a converted secondhand Bombardier Q400 turboprop, or an Avro RJ85 or Boeing 737 jet airliner.


“Coulson and Conair, both Canadian companies which are currently converting these models, would probably be happy to make a sale,” Gabbert said.

“A new C-130 or LM-100J would be out of the question at their budget. Used C-130s are difficult to find and the cost can be higher than retired airliners.”

In the meantime further leased large air tankers may be on their way to Australia for the current fire season. The federal government has announced a one-off boost of $11 million for the National Aerial Firefighting Centre to deliver “more large specialist firefighting air tankers to communities across Australia, bringing our total contribution to $25.8 million this financial year”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a December 4 statement.

The NSW LAT announcement was made while marking the arrival of the world’s first Boeing 737 firebomber in Australia.

VIDEO – the NSW Rural Fire Service marks the arrival of the 737 large air tanker Gaia for the 2018-19 fire season.

Named Gaia, the aircraft is operated by Coulson Aviation and is a converted ex-Southwest Airlines 737-300 fitted with Coulson’s RADS-XXL/2 4,000 US gallon fire retardant-dropping system. According to Coulson’s website, converting the 737 took three years and 43,000 man hours.

“The new Gaia aircraft can carry more than 15,000 litres of fire retardant to drop strategically over fire grounds as the frontline response continues, providing an invaluable support,” NSW Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

The 737 was used in action for the first time on November 22, alongside C-130 and RJ85 LATs, to fight fires near Port Stephens north of Newcastle.

“These large air tankers are incredibly effective,” NSW RFS Inspector Rolfe Poole said.

“We’ll always need boots on the ground but what this aerial support does is support those firefighters on the ground by knocking down the firefront,” Poole said, according to the Port Stephens Examiner.

“Using flame retardants from the air, we are able to get in front of the fire and slow its progress.”



  • Bill


    There’s, what, 12 C-130s at RAAF Richmond (not all flying at once obviously) and a bunch of army helicopters at Holsworthy and navy ones at Nowra. Surely it would be cheaper and easier to request that the federal government put some of these aircraft online for firefighting purposes over the fire season. There’s RO/RO systems for the C-130 and bami buckets for the helicopters that can lift more than most civilian helicopters except for the Skycrane.

    • Rob


      You cannot use the RAAF’s C-130’s because they belong to the RAAF and not to be used by others.
      As for C-130’s being in short supply Davis-Monthan AMARC inventory list has 309 of them in storage. Some are later models to be returned to service if required and lots of spare parts. Sourcing a used C-130 from Davis-Monthan for conversion to a fire tanker, US government approval should be relative simple exercise for an Australian Government organization. To speed the process up NSW engage the RAAF to fast track the procurement process from the US government by lobbying Canberra for alternative access to an RAAF C-130 if the US government surplus aircraft falls through.

    • Tony


      Bill, I also got the negative comments a few years back when I suggested the RAAF C130’s be used for temporary fire fighting using the proven US pallet system. Then the “reasoning” was that the pilots were not trained for low level! Then the RAAF donated their surplus C130’s to Indonesia free of charge. The RAF are disposing of their short body C130J’s but no interest apparently shown by Australia. Now Rob identifies the surplus C130’s in the US.
      Looks like opportunities are being lost.

  • James


    @ Rob

    I think Bills point isn’t about “ownership.” It’s about the fact that if the RAAF has available machines and crew, why can’t a roll on roll off system be used? Makes sense.

  • Ronald Spencer


    Instead of the RAAF practicing low level cargo drops maybe as we the taxpayers own the aircraft and pay the crews and their maintenance people they could learn to drop water for their employers

  • Richard Bradfield


    Its always amazed me why Australia has not had its own fleet of Water bombers. How much do the States pay each year to bring in Aircraft and crews from overseas?Is it the fact of Politics in Australia, each State does its own thing instead of the Federal Government taking control. If it had then those C130s would not have gone to Indonesia. At least now NSW is taking the plunge, and certainly will be cheaper in the long run to have its own Aircraft.

  • Adrian P


    The Federal Government is preparing to spend $17 billion on 72 F-35 aircraft (which may never be used in anger). but spend peanuts on something that happens every year. It appears that the defence force is there to protect us from an enemy that can not be named but not forest fires. What better training could there be than practice flying through smoke to make an accurate drop plus why not use Wedgetails for command and control.

  • Lee


    Sorry to say, that there is NO operational or legal reason why RAAF C-130’s cannot be used for fire fighting purposes. This very publication has run articles in the past discussing early experiments the RAAF conducted with Ro-Ro fire fighting units back in the early 80’s. There was much comment after the disastrous Sydney fires of January 1994 but nothing happened. That same event saw Army and Navy helicopters used for transport and fire spotting. The time for looking at purchasing at least a couple of removable fire fighting systems for the C-130J has come, it just needs political will to do so.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Each day, our subscribers are more informed with the right information.

SIGN UP to the Australian Aviation magazine for high-quality news and features for just $99.95 per year