South Australian aviation group Aerotech Australasia opened its new bushfire base in the Adelaide Hills on Sunday, in time for the fire season.
The company spent $1.5 million developing the Claremont base at Brutunga, near Woodside, in the fire-prone hills.
Aerotech is contracted by the state’s Country Fire Service (CFS) to provide water bombers and surveillance aircraft.
A CFS spokesman said the new base would enable faster turnaround time for the 18 aircraft available to water-bomb bushfires and provide surveillance.
Faster filling times and a longer runway than the previous airstrip at nearby Woodside would allow aircraft to take off with close to maximum loads in almost all weather conditions.
CFS chief officer Greg Nettleton said the fire service was well prepared for this year’s fire danger season.
“Aerial firefighting is a key resource for the CFS. However it’s important to note that aircraft support firefighters on the ground, who are essential in the extinguishing of a fire,” he said.
The fleet, 11 aerial bombers and seven surveillance aircraft, could be deployed swiftly, SA Emergency Services Minister Peter Malinauskas said.
Often aerial firefighting aircraft reached the fire site before ground crews arrived, he said.
“Support aircraft are used to both inform the bombers and also the public as to where the fire is and where it is headed.”
Fire authorities said the aircraft fleet flew 147 missions during last summer’s fast-moving and fatal Pinery bushire, north of Adelaide, in which two people died and 87 houses and 85,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed.
They said 41 operational air bases across South Australia were available for bushfire tasks over summer.
Aerotech’s fleet is led by 11 Air Tractor 802F water bombers, which are converted to crop spraying during winter and spring.