The Slovenia Times

Slovenia to get firefighting aircraft before peak season


Slovenia signed a contract with the company Air Tractor Europe S.L. on 17 April for the purchase of four firefighting aircraft. The first two water bombers, two-seater aircraft, are due to arrive in Slovenia in June, just in time before peak fire season, and the other two, single-seaters, next year.

The purchase is estimated at just over €23 million, including VAT. The contract was signed by Defence Minister Marjan Šarec, acting head of the Civil Protection and Disaster Relief Administration Leon Behin, and Rafael Selma Beltran, director of Air Tractor Europe S.L., an exclusive dealer of the US aircraft manufacturer Air Tractor Inc. for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Air Tractors are used in more than 18 countries around the world, the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija recently reported, including in Slovenia's neighbour Croatia. The aircraft Slovenia purchased are 11 metres long and have a wingspan of 18 metres. They can reach speeds of 350 km/h.

When it comes to aerial firefighting, Slovenia has so far either relied on assistance from other countries or used dual-use or versatile aircraft, such as military helicopters.

"Today marks the beginning of a new era in the fight against natural disasters. These aircraft will make sure that we are not at the mercy of other countries or their availability," Šarec said after signing the agreement as he recalled that Slovenia decided to purchase such aircraft last summer amid one of the largest wildfires in the country's history.

In addition to putting an end to Slovenia's dependence on foreign water bombers, the purchase will increase the country's firefighting efficiency.

Each of the aircraft supplied to Slovenia can be refilled with water on the ground or mid-flight and carry more than 3,000 litres of water, which is a significant improvement on the Cougar helicopter's 2,500 litres in one go, the highest capacity recorded so far in the Slovenian fleet of aircraft capable to assist in firefighting.

At the end of the year, a Spartan military transport aircraft is expected to arrive in Slovenia. The aircraft can be turned into an aerial firefighter, but the dedicated configuration will be delivered a few months later. Moreover, Spartan will be primarily used for military transport and potential rescue or evacuation efforts.

The purchases of five aircraft in total are a welcome addition to the fleet, the broadcaster's sources in the army said, but what has raised concerns is the problem of getting enough trained pilots or aircraft maintenance staff amid staff shortages.

The Air Tractor aircraft will initially be flown by military pilots or other experienced pilots, but pilot training and retraining will begin immediately now that the contract has been signed, Šarec said, pointing to the ministry's 20 pilot scholarships from 2023 through 2026 and maintenance training efforts.

This new firefighting unit will be a special unit operating under the civil administration authority, and Slovenia plans to also make the Air Tractors a part of the EU's firefighting fleet to help other countries when necessary.

Another issue at the moment is that the military does not have hangars to accommodate the new aircraft, but the minister has vowed to provide additional hangars. The Air Tractor aircraft will be based either at the Cerklje air base or, given they will be registered as civil aircraft, at the Brnik airport, but during fire season they will be moved to high-risk areas.


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