New body awards contracts in effort to co-ordinate annual battle against the blazes.

Australia's National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) has awarded contracts to Helicopter Resources, Helicorp and McDermott Aviation to provide resources for the coming fire season across the country.

The contracts mark the first time Australia has had a national aerial firefighting resources plan, with states and territories previously responsible for sourcing their own equipment.

The contracts follow creation of the NAFC in July. The organisation was established by Australia's fire authorities and land management groups to manage resources on a national basis.

The new national aerial firefighting strategy is designed to ensure resources are used and shared more effectively.

The national policy follows devastating bush fires that affected Canberra and large parts of the states of New South Wales and Victoria during the Australian summer.

The contracts take effect immediately, with the fire season having already started in some parts of the country. They will continue through the season, which ends in April in some areas, with a possible two-year extension.

The contract award follows the release of a request for proposals in June, calling for information on high-volume firebombing aircraft, capable of carrying a minimum of 5,000 litres (1,320USgal) of water; and medium-volume firebombing aircraft, with a payload capability of more than 2,500kg (5,500lb) and capable of delivering 2,500-4,000 litres of water.

Bidders were also required to submit information on ways of improving the delivery of service and datalink-based airborne fire- mapping services.Melbourne-based Helicorp will provide an Erickson Air Crane Sikorsky S-64 Helitanker with a bellytank capacity of 9,500 litres for an initial 12 weeks in Victoria and a second in New South Wales.

Helicorp will also supply a Bell 205 with a 1,400 litre capacity bellytank, and also capable of carrying 14 firefighters, for an initial six weeks in Tasmania.Helicopter Resources will provide a Mil Mi-8 carrying a 4,600 litre capacity bucket for an initial 12 weeks in Victoria.

Queensland-based helicopter specialist McDermott Aviation is supplying a Bell 214B with a 2,700-litre bellytank or a 2,900-litre bucket, and capable of carrying up to 14 firefighters, for an initial 12 weeks to South Australia.

A second Bell 412B will be deployed in Victoria, a further two will go to New South Wales and another will go to Canberra for six weeks.

Source: Flight International