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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2321

Senator COULTER (10.37 p.m.) —The summary and conclusions, including the qualifications, were published and distributed in December 1985. The full report of nearly 300 pages was not published until April 1986—five months later. For that period the very incompetent and damaging report was used by fire authorities and governments alike as good reason for no action. This action, plus the uncertainties and bias in the report, place it in the scurrilous at the very least, and libellous at the very worst.

  At the time the full report began to circulate, the damage to the credibility of the CL215 had already been done and no amount of criticism, reasoned or impassioned, could shake those who chose to ignore the benefits the aircraft could bring to Australia. The fact is that the aircraft was developed over 20 years ago in Canada and is used extensively in Canada, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece. It is a very effective adjunct to firefighting. It picks up six tonnes of water in 10 seconds while in flight. It could have very significantly affected the outcome of the fire in the Royal National Park in New South Wales. These aircraft have dropped as many as 32 loads in one hour—that is, each aircraft—and a fleet of them clearly can drop enormous tonnages of water very quickly.

  The key to making this aircraft available is multi-tasking, and I urge the government, in conformity with our budget submission which we have made to government, to seriously consider the purchase of these aircraft as an adjunct to more effective firefighting in Australia. Not to do so would be reprehensible. To take into account at this stage in 1994 a totally discredited report, namely the Project Aquarius Report, would be totally unconscionable. The various government ministers in cabinet who have to deal with bushfires and bushfire fighting should give reconsideration to the purchase of this very important adjunct to our firefighting capability. I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my speech into Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The remainder of the speech read as follows—

Having said all of the above, the "Summary & Conclusions," including the qualifications, was published and distributed in December 1985. The Full Report, of nearly 300 pages, was not published until April 1986—5 months later, and for that period, the very incompetent and damaging report was used by fire authorities and governments alike as good reason for nil-action.

This action, plus the uncertainties and bias of the report place it in the scurrilous at the very least, and libellous at the worst.

By the time the full report began to circulate, the damage to the credibility of the CL215 had already been done, and no amount of criticism, reasoned or impassioned, could shake those who chose to ignore the benefits the aircraft could bring to Australia.


One of the major reasons the CL215 failed in the computer simulation was the methods used for assigning fixed and variable costs to each aircraft.

At the outset, (p10), the CL215 was considered to be a single purpose aircraft which meant that the very high capital costs (i.e. fixed costs), were assigned solely to fire fighting. This, of course, had the effect of making the "cost per load" very expensive.

At the same time, (p10), helicopters and agricultural aircraft, (p9), had discounted fixed costs because "they had considerable alternative uses".

The fixed costs for the Thrush Commander were based on an average of only 8 days of very high fire danger per season. On p69, reference is made to Fire-Trail maintenance, and states "However, helicopters are the only suitable means of attack for this purpose as they can also be used for reconnaissance and transport. Half the fixed costs for small helicopters are already written off in the model for these non-suppression functions". What they have done is not incorrect, but it simply widens the bias against the CL215 and puts the performance of these aircraft at an unfair economic advantage.

On P72, "The agricultural aircraft are all privately owned. Unlike the larger fixed wing planes, their primary use is not for fire bombing, but spraying weedicide, fertiliser, pesticide etc—doesn't the CL215 do this too?

In a further reference, p74 . . . "helicopters have the advantage of being multi-purpose so that only part of the fixed costs need be counted towards fire bombing. This is again referenced on pp101/102.

Whilst all the above assumptions have validity, they grossly disadvantage the CL215.

Mention was made of the National Safety Council (pp74,79). For reasons known only to the authors, they state, p99, "For efficient resource use, rates should be based on the true underlying costs, and similarly a social cost-benefit study should use the true costs. However, some with very different rate structures (e.g. USDA, Defence, NSCA), were re-structured to a basis more comparable with others." NSCA were used in the study, and we all now know that rates quoted by NSCA were grossly and criminally distorted.


The report does not clearly state how some of the costs for aircraft were derived.

P97 states "Details of airtanker costs for aircraft of interest to Australia were sought from several agencies and companies, overseas and in Australia. . . " Canadian standby rates tended to be two or three times higher than US rates in the same model; this may be due to the use of newer aircraft, more rigorous back-up requirements, and/or less competition in Canada. It is common knowledge that the US airtanker business, which is a billion dollar a year operation, is based on cheap, military surplus aircraft—why wasn't this mentioned?

On p100, special attention is paid to the CL215. When the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources quoted full cost per hour, the rates calculated by the authors was considerably more, so they presumed that the Manitoba DNR had omitted certain hidden costs "as is commonly the case with government accounting systems."

In the report the life of a CL215 is shown as 18 years maximum. Early models are topping 20 years of active service, and are due for re-furbishment and a further 10 years minimum service life.

In relation to the variable costs, they did not at any time approach Canadair for any costs. It would appear that they took the variable rate as quoted in the tender for the hire of aircraft for Project Aquarius which is grossly unfair. This information was provided on the basis of a specific, one-off assignment, which has been used in generalised form for feeding into the computer simulation model.

It is known that the costs for the successful aircraft were extremely favourable. Dr John Nicholson, the project co-ordinator, at the briefing, stated "We got the DC6 for a U-beaut, rock bottom price, from Connair", a direct competitor to Canadair. This must surely mean that the costs assigned to the DC6 have been artificially down-costed. Both the fixed and variable costs for the canadair have been distorted so as to unfairly represent the aircraft to the Australian scene.


Based on the statements made on p98, it is quite feasible that the CL215 was eliminated from some of the simulations. The report states "in some of the Canadian hire rates the standby rate per day is typically around 2.5 times the rate per flying hour. . . . . . Where a charge per flying hour is so high as to recover a significant part of fixed as well as variable costs, less efficient use of aircraft may result. The fire fighting agency paying the bill may be reluctant to dispatch even in situations where it could save enough to cover variable costs. (It would be a brave, (or foolish), fire commander in charge of a major fire, who would hold back a fire fighting tool because he thought it would cost too much) . . . Similarly, in the AIRPRO model, such aircraft might not pass preliminary tests based on variable costs". No information in the report indicated which aircraft, if any were eliminated, but undoubtedly the CL215 would be at the top of the list, based on distorted and inaccurate costs.

It is interesting to note that in the discussion on airtanker costs, pp97-105, special attention is paid to the CL215, RAAF Hercules and Helicopters, but no reference whatsoever is made to the DC6B—why not?

In further pressing the case that the CL215 has been unfairly costed out, the report on p104, states "Controlling oil spills has been another use for airtankers being seriously investigated by the Federal Government." It goes on to say "if a financial commitment by the government department concerned with oil spills were to be made, it could provide a useful contribution to defraying costs of airtankers. Agricultural aircraft have a natural advantage in regard to multiple use. This is a classic alternative use for the CL215 or its new cousin, the CL415.


A second, major reason why the CL215 failed the various simulations is directly related to drop patterns and drop heights.

The participants in Project Aquarius at no time contacted Canadair for professional or technical information. The footprints (i.e. the pattern left on the ground when the airtanker drops its load), for airtankers entered into the AIRPRO model, and for that matter the ASM1 model, were provided by the US Forest Service.

The US Forest service has always evaluated the CL215 as a retardent delivery system; the tank and gating system for the CL215 has been optimised, by design, for the delivery of water in the first instance, and fire fighting foam, which is now the normal load delivery for all Canadair aircraft.

This evaluation has two serious disadvantages for the CL215 and CL415.

Firstly, the "User Guide-lines for Fire Retardent Aircraft: General Instructions Manual" issued by the US Forest Department states that a two compartment salvo drop should be avoided at heights of less than 200 feet. The Greek airforce laughed at this restriction stating that they regularly drop at 30-50 feet.

The reason for this is that gum-thickened retardents, used in very large quantities in the USA, have high viscosities, and are resistant to the break-up of the load. For this reason the mass tends to be more cohesive, retains its forward momentum longer and has velocity at impact.

Secondly, the CL215 and 415 are not particularly favourable retardent delivery vehicles, but there is nothing available that can out-perform them for water or foam application.

Secondly, computer footprints for the CL215 used in Project Aquarius were simulated using drop heights of 200 feet. This in turn gave a distorted result of the efficiencies of the aircraft.

It is most interesting to note, that at the same time Project Aquarius was using computer simulations, Petawawa National Forestry Institute undertook actual fire tests to examine the productivity of Skimmer Air Tankers (Petawawa National Forestry Institute, Information Report PI-X-15). For drop heights of 30 metres, footprints for a number of skimmer aircraft were determined.

It should be noted that Project Aquarius (p2), stated that with fires over 3000kW/m a retardant drop would eventually be nullified, whilst with fires up to 5000 kW/m retardant attack can achieve some temporary reduction in fire intensity.

However, the Petawawa tests revealed that the maximum intensity that was controlled by a CL215 was 3335 kW/m for white spruce, 5000 kW/m for jack pine, 6000 kW/m for black spruce and 8335 kW/m for Balsam fir. These tests were conducted using actual slash burns of measurable intensity, and the findings are in stark contrast with the "assumptions" in the economic model.


The introduction of fire fighting foams is considered by fire fighting authorities to at least double, or even treble the effectiveness of water, and this being the case, and depending on the type of vegetation dealt with, intensities of up to 24000 kW/m could be effectively dealt with by the Canadair aircraft.


A further reason why the CL215 was failed by the Project Aquarius tests was that the AIRPRO computer model considered each aircraft as a separate entity. P202 states "The model itself tests each type of resource independently, rather than comparing different combinations of resources, either working together on a fire or in the fleet available for dispatch to any fire. Those aircraft with negative net savings may be eliminated from further consideration but the question remains as to what combinations of those resources with positive savings should maximise total savings.

The introduction of Canadair aircraft to fire fighting operations in each of the countries which operate the aircraft has never been on the basis of "This is the only fire fighting tool you will need". Indeed, CL215's and 415's are an integral part of fire fighting operations, both land based and in combination with other aircraft.

To use a computer simulation, which has yet to put out an actual fire, in isolation is like to sending a single fire truck and crew to put out a major bush fire! The model can have no validity if it does not consider how effective aerial fire fighting is in the context of the true role in the overall extinguishment of the fire, and the functions of the essential elements in the suppression formula.