Initial attack certification
Date issue released
Safety Issue Description

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service procedures allowed operators to determine when pilots were initial attack capable. However, they intended for the pilot in command to be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service certification process.

Issue number
Issue Status
Closed – Adequately addressed
Transport Function
Aviation: General aviation
Issue Owner
New South Wales Rural Fire Service
Mode of Transport
Issue Status Justification

The ATSB notes the changes to the Large Air Tanker guidelines (Operating Guidelines for Air Tanker Operations). The ATSB is satisfied that the revisions to the document remove the ambiguity and aligns the guidelines with the intent. This should ensure this risk control is implemented consistently by the RFS across multiple air tanker operators.

Issue finalisation date
Safety recommendation
Action number
NSW Rural Fire Service
Action date
Action Status
Action description

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service address the ambiguity with the interpretation of ‘initial attack’ in the NSW and ACT Aviation Standard Operating Procedures with the intent of this requirement.

Organisation Response
Date Received
NSW Rural Fire Service
Response Text

Comprehensive research undertaken with relevant doctrine identified from within the US noting some doctrine also identified within Australia. This work was supplemented with a study tour to the US in October 2022 by three senior officers from the NSW RFS.

Large Air Tanker Guidelines (Operating Guidelines for Air Tankers Operations) and Interagency Aviation Standard Operating Procedures revised and published on 13 October 2022.  Technical changes made within the ARENA system on 07 September 2022 in order to allow pilots to record initial attack qualifications.

Both companies engaged for Large Air Tanker operations required to have pilot initial attack qualifications in the ARENA system prior to contract commencement date. This has been reviewed and confirmed by NSW RFS for those who have commenced their contract period in October 2022 and will be for those due to commence in December 2022 noting this will be an ongoing requirement.

This record will be reviewed by NSW RFS at minimum annually in the ARENA system and will be incorporated into any company audit inspections undertaken.

ATSB Response

The ATSB notes the changes to the Large Air Tanker guidelines (Operating guidelines for Air Tankers Operations) in revision dated 2022. This included the addition of a definition and requirement that "IA - Pilot that is initial attack qualified (Carded by USFS)."

ATSB Response date