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On 8 December 2009, at about 1840 Eastern Daylight-saving Time an Aerospatiale AS.350B helicopter, registered VH-NFO (NFO), and a Kawasaki BK117 helicopter, registered VH-LXC (LXC), were engaged in aerial firebombing operations about 20 km south-east of Orange Aerodrome, New South Wales (NSW). During one of the water drop sequences, while in the vicinity of the drop point, LXC‟s main rotor blade tip(s) contacted the trailing edge of NFO‟s vertical fin. There was light damage to NFO and there were no injuries, although the outcome could have been more serious.

There were no published procedures for pilots to follow to ensure separation from other aircraft when there was no air attack supervisor present. Instead, the system relied on the airmanship and experience of pilots to mutually arrange separation. In this case, the water source was about 600 m from the fire front and NFO had departed the water source shortly before LXC. The investigation established that neither pilot was aware of the position of the other helicopter as they approached the drop point.

In response to the occurrence, the NSW Rural Fire Service developed a series of mission management standard operating procedures, including the use of standard terminology for aerial firefighting activities. These were to be introduced to contracted and other operators via a series of workshops commencing in November 2010.

After being approached by a number of firefighting authorities, in July 2009 the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) commenced a Firefighting Review. In November 2009, a Firefighting Operations Manual project team was established including five CASA staff, one fire authority staff member, 11 industry representatives and one consultant to draft a proposed manual.  The aim was for the manual to standardise aerial firefighting procedures across the authorities. At the time of release of this report, the draft manual had been distributed to the various fire authorities for their review.

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