Please avoid bushfires this summer!
CASA has warned all pilots not involved in fighting fires this summer to stay away from active bushfires. This is to enable aerial assets to be employed to fight the fires, both fixed and rotary wing. This type of flying is difficult enough, low level, smoke haze, heat, turbulence, accuracy required… we don’t need to add avoiding a light aircraft to the mix!
This year the fleet is bigger than ever! Not only including the usual array of light and medium helicopters, the famed ‘Elvis’ S64 Aircrane (and other S64’s of other less famed names) and a plethora of ag types like the AT804 Air Tractor (think “Dusty” from “Planes”). This years contingent of heavy bombers from the northern hemisphere includes water bomber variants of the C130 Hercules, BAe146 and Boeing 737! These are seriously large machines, operating at VERY low levels, in VERY challenging environments. They can drop over 10,000L of water on a fire and for pilots there is the room they require to ingress and egress from the area of operations. Also, these aircraft are all in excess of 40,000kg therefore pose a serious wake turbulence risk to a light aircraft.
To this end, CASA has issued the ‘usual’ bushfire NOTAM. Which we have all probably been guilty of skipping over, but lets review:
C1012/18 UNNOTIFIED INTENSE AVIATION ACT ASSOCIATED WITH FIREFIGHTING OPS MAY OCCUR WI 5NM RAD AND BLW 3000FT AGL OF OBSERVED FIRES. PILOTED ACFT AS WELL AS UAS NOT COOR THRU THE RELEVANT STATE FIRE AUTHORITY ARE REQ TO REMAIN CLR. FROM 06 181400 TO PERM
So, unless you are involved stay more than 5NM away or if you must overfly, do so at 3000ft AGL or higher if possible! For those who have a drone (or two) please note this also applies to you! Stay WELL AWAY from active fires, if you fly they can’t. ALL aerial fire fighting will be suspended if an unknown aircraft or drone is spotted too close to the area. This obviously has a large negative impact on firefighting efforts!
In the case of larger fires there may be a separate NOTAM issued and even a temporary danger or restricted declared e.g.:
C1712/19 REVIEW C1660/19 INTENSE AVIATION ACTIVITY ASSOCIATED WITH FIREFIGHTING OPS WI 30NM RADIUS OF 3726S 14805E BRG 298 MAG 33NM FM ORBOST AD (YORB) ACFT NOT COORDINATED THROUGH THE VICTORIAN STATE AIRDESK ARE REQ TO REMAIN CLEAR VICTORIAN STATE AIRDESK TEL 1300 134 144 FIREGROUND FREQ 132.55 AND 135.55 SFC TO 6000FT AMSL FROM 12 200133 TO 12 300700 EST
Please let our aerial firefighters do the important work they need to do in our hot Australian summer!
An important note in closing… light aircraft flying around DO however form an important part of the alerting system! If you do see a fire that is burning and you can’t see any obvious firefighting effort please notify ATC on the relevant frequency for the area. These reports are then passed on to emergency services so they can be alerted to a possible new fire starting and send firefighters (land or aerial) to combat it.