Two iconic families have come together to solve one of Australia’s most urgent problems. The Fox and Coulson families are set to create a nationally co-ordinated and sovereign aerial firefighting fleet – with expertise in night-time blaze-battling – to quickly respond to emergencies and prevent the severity of future bushfire seasons.
In the wake of the devastating 2019/2020 fires, Lindsay Fox, founder of Australia’s largest logistics company, LinFox, has teamed up with the world’s leading aerial firefighting company, Coulson Aviation, to create Australia’s first national approach to the provision of high capacity fire and emergency aviation services that can operate at night as well as day, with the aim to launch next summer 2021.
The proposed fleet of large fixed wing air tankers, super heavy helicopters and fire intelligence gathering aircraft will be based and operated throughout the State and Territories in Australia, with maintenance and support infrastructure supplied in New South Wales and Victoria. The team intends to work with State Governments, Territories, emergency services agencies, and within any framework agreed by the Federal Government.
Australia has one of the largest volunteer firefighting forces in the world. The team intends to build a world class training facility and centre of excellence for aerial firefighting volunteers – who make up the fabric of our nation – to create a strong, intelligence-led and informed approach to aerial firefighting.
The high capacity 365 day a year fleet is intended to offer firebombing, intelligence gathering and aerial firefighting support services during the fire seasons, but also search and rescue, surveillance and medical evacuation services at other times.
“We will offer co-ordinated, national coverage by ensuring our fleet is positioned around the country for optimal coverage during the fire seasons,” said Fox.
Chairman of Coulson Aviation Australia, Wayne Coulson said, ‘We’ve learned through many major fire campaigns globally the enormous effect of large capacity air tankers in managing bushfires, particularly when we bring the fight at night; this results in lives saved and houses standing and that’s why we do what we do.’
“There is always an opportunity to improve our nation’s approach to aerial firefighting,’’ added Fox. “Each of the States and Territories are responsible for their own emergency response, so each response varies. As our fire seasons get longer – and become more dangerous and unpredictable, the most sensible – and safe – solution is a co-ordinated, national approach.”
Calls for a national aerial fleet have been echoed by fire victims for decades and, last week, was a key recommendation made by the long-awaited Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements 2020. The Royal Commission focussed on emergency responses to the 2019/2020 fire season which saw 33 lost lives, 3000+ homes destroyed, three billion animals killed and 24 – 40 million hectares burned1.
“Between the Fox and Coulson families, we bring a hell of a lot of experience together. It means we can combine our unparalleled logistics and emergency response experience with Coulson’s unbeaten aerial fire fighting experience. This will ensure maximum and optimal coverage of fire zones – but also maximum and optimal protection of life and property,” said Fox.
The benefits of a national approach to aviation backed by the Fox Coulson consortium includes the ability to have a sovereign fleet of high capacity, big aircraft that can operate night and day across Australia, working in conjunction with state and territories and smaller operators.
The consortium aims to fulfil the requirements of both State and Federal Governments to provide a national solution and support operations resourced in Australia, creating hundreds of jobs but, according to Coulson, “hopefully, we will save many more lives.”
Coulson said the consortium’s fleet will bring cutting-edge night-time aerial firefighting capabilities to future fire seasons, predicted to be the worst.
“We’ve been in Australia for 20 years, providing aerial support across multiple Australian states including during Black Saturday and most recently the Black Summer bushfires and we are focussed on bringing to Australian communities every bit of experience and innovation we have.
“In our experience, with a technology based approach, fighting fire at night can be just as effective as during the day operations,” said Coulson who has seen an increased need for night-time firefighting as fire seasons across the world extend. “During the day, we’re responding to an emergency situation, there are other aircraft around, there’s panic on the ground and you’re reacting.
“At night, the advantages are higher humidity, lower temperature and typically lower winds. You own the airspace and can control the situation much more efficiently and effectively,” he added. “Our night-ops technology combines laser beams the size of a car with cutting-edge thermal imaging and night vision technology to see everything, and that means we can water-bomb much more precisely, so less retardant and water is wasted. It’s a game-changer.”
The Fox-Coulson consortium is run by a steering committee that includes former Secretary of Defence, Dennis Richardson and Founder and Executive Chairman of Sayers, Luke Sayers.
“The Fox-Coulson consortium is an incredibly potent and powerful combination of skills, technology, experience – and passion for defending Australia,” said Richardson.
“The Royal Commission’s recommendations make it clear that coming fire seasons are going to be longer and more dangerous than ever before,” he added. “A national approach to firefighting is urgently needed.”
The combining of the Fox and Coulson families’ unique skill sets will allow the consortium to set up remote bases where aircraft can safely reload retardant close to a live fire zone, rather than having to fly, sometimes for hours, to the nearest airport – and then back again.
“When you’re fighting fires, you’re living in seconds, not minutes and certainly not hours,” said Coulson. “Being able to provide remote operating bases is critical to opimatising your aircraft turn times to drop more water on the fire faster. This results in more effective operations, which directly translates to a greater chance of controlling the outcome of a potentially catastrophic bushfire.”
“I’ve been looking for a way to build a national emergency fire and disaster response for years, so I’m relieved to see the Royal Commission agrees that we need one – and urgently,” said Fox.
“I’m just a proud Australian who loves fixing problems, and our country is currently facing one of its biggest problems ever. Now is the time to come together, the suffering has to stop. This is the solution that is going to help my fellow Australians. It’s going to save lives,” he said.