Canada and Australia Could Transport Water Bombers by Sea

bushfire in NSW, Australia

Published Jan 15, 2020 6:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

With catastrophic bushfires burning across Australia, the idea of a maritime joint firefighting force with Canada has resurfaced.

Canada's Davie Shipyard and aerospace company Bombadier developed the idea for a joint force of 14 water bombing planes deployed from a specialist ship that could transfer the planes between the two countries in time for their respective fire seasons. The plans can carry several thousand liters of water and refill by skimming over a body of water. Transporting them by sea rather than flying them between countries would reduce risk and maintenance costs.

The proposal, reportedly shared informally in 2016, stated that the two nations could share the costs for this boost to local firefighting assets. 

Greg Mullins, former NSW fire commissioner, told Australia's ABC earlier this month: "Our prime minister should be on the phone with Justin Trudeau from Canada, right now, saying, 'Justin, we need 20 or more of your water-scooping, purpose-built water bombers that are in mothballs during your winter.'" 

Australia's National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) already leases water bombers from overseas, but did not request extra planes from Canada until December last year - by that time, the planes were iced in, and Canada was unable to supply them. A group of former fire chiefs had previously warned Australia's Federal Government that more funding was needed for the NAFC, but their warnings were unheeded until the catastrophic fire season was well underway.

Since September, 28 people have died, more than 2,500 homes have been destroyed and over eight million hectares of land have burned, an area larger than the province of Nova Scotia. Researchers estimate over a billion mammals, birds and reptiles have been affected.

Mullins believes more homes could have been saved with more bombers.

Canada has called on Australian firefighting personnel in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and is now reciprocating with support in Australia. Around 100 Canadian firefighters have helped battle the fires since they began in September, and more are expected to arrive soon.