The Andrews Labor Government has cut the capacity of the aerial firefighting aircraft based in Shepparton.
Member for Euroa and Deputy Nationals leader Steph Ryan and The Nationals’ candidate for Nicholls Sam Birrell joined CFA volunteer Tom Brodie at Shepparton airport this morning to flag concerns about the changes.
Ms Ryan said the government signed new contracts late last year which replaced Kestrel Aviation’s Bell 212 twin engine helicopter with a AS350 single engine helicopter.
The Bell 212 helicopter has a firebombing capacity of 1500 litres, while the AS350 can carry just 1050 litres.
“The helicopter that now sits at the Shepparton airport carries only two-thirds of the volume of water that the aircraft previously provided,” Ms Ryan said.
“So far we have avoided a bad fire season this year, but it’s only a matter of time before we face fast-moving grassfires or bushfires in inaccessible terrain where aerial support is vital.
“The reduced capability of the aircraft contracted by the government means fires will take longer to pull up and our volunteers on the ground won’t have as much support.”
Mr Birrell said he was concerned by Victorian Government’s decision to downgrade the capacity of Shepparton’s aerial support.
“Aerial attack has become vitally important in modern firefighting,” Mr Birrell said.
“We need to be upping the ante on the capacity of our fleet, not reducing it. If I am elected, I will lobby the Victorian Government to reverse its cuts to our firefighting capacity.”
Ms Ryan said Shepparton’s operational base would also no longer be serviced by Kestrel, a local aircraft operator located in Mangalore, after the government handed the contract to Melbourne-based Microflite.
“CFA volunteers have raised concerns with me that Microflite has limited experience in aerial firefighting,” Ms Ryan said.
“The government needs to explain why it has handed these contracts to another company which has resulted in a less experienced operator with a reduced capacity.
“Not only are Kestrel Aviation industry leaders, having pioneered night bombing and the use of snorkels to allow aerial appliances to refill from the air, but they are also local.
“Instead of supporting regional businesses, Labor is ripping the rug out from underneath them.”