With wildland fires growing ever larger, more frequent, and more intense, the landscape of aerial firefighting is evolving. The market is evolving, too. In the United States, military surplus Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and Boeing CH-47 Chinooks are starting to fill the need for more capable firefighting helicopters, edging out the Bell mediums that have dominated the market for decades. These surplus aircraft are plentiful and cost-effective, but they’re also limited to restricted category operations — a fact that holds them back from their full potential.
Across the Atlantic, Heli Austria has hit on a different solution. In its search for an economical heavy-lift utility and firefighting helicopter, the company saw promise in the Airbus AS332 L and L1 Super Pumas that were being phased out of the offshore industry. Robust, reliable, and still well supported by the factory, the L and L1 variants are less expensive than later AS332 L2 and H225/EC225 LP Super Pumas, without those models’ history of main rotor gearbox problems. Moreover, because they are certified in the normal category, they can carry passengers including firefighters without special permission, and with few limits on where they can fly.