Although the words ‘wildfire’ or ‘forest fire’ conjure up images of Australian or Californian conflagrations, the scourge of potentially uncontrolled fires in rural expanses is a major threat for civil security authorities around Europe, too: witness recent events in southern Portugal, for example. All too often, such fires can break out in remote areas, difficult for conventional ground-based firefighters to access with the panoply of equipment required.
It is an interesting development, therefore, that the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) has recently contracted Saab to provide an aerial firefighting capability for the period 2020-2023, to be available not only to Sweden but also to the rest of the EU.
The order is for the capability to fight fires with two aircraft from 1 April to 30 September each year. There is an option to trigger the availability of two further aircraft with effect from the start of 2021 fire season
Over a one-year period, Saab has established aerial firefighting capabilities, using the Air Tractor AT-802 F firefighting aircraft, with associated pilot and technician skills, as well as the specific permits for their operation.
"We are part of Sweden's national security and our specialist expertise and flight permits made it natural for us to complement our operations in Nyköping with aerial firefighting capabilities," commented Ellen Molin, Head of Saab's Support and Services business area. "It is important to have a prompt national response to forest fires, and this service is going to help deliver that."
The AT-802 F is a water-bombing aircraft that can release 35-50,000l/hr of water. The aircraft will be based in Nyköping, where Saab already has aviation operations for, among other things, aerial target-towing and support for the Swedish Coast Guard’s aircraft.
From Nyköping, firefighting aircraft can reach Copenhagen or eastern Finland, for example, within two hours: Luleå in northern Sweden within a further three. If necessary, the aircraft can be based at an alternative location with advanced technical and maintenance resources. Rapid response to fires is crucial.