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Better Search And Rescue In Northern Australia

Australian Coat of Arms

The Hon John Anderson MP
Deputy Prime Minister
Leader of The Nationals
Minister for Transport and Regional Services

TRS13/Budget 11 May 2004

Northern Australia will be covered by a dedicated high-speed search and rescue aircraft for the first time, as a result of a four year, $18.9 million search and rescue package announced in today's Budget.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson, said the Government would spend $5.3 million on the new package in 2004-05.

Australia is responsible for providing search and rescue across 10 percent of the earth's surface. In the last six years, maritime and aviation search and rescue operations coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) have saved more than 2,000 people, including 55 participants in the 1998 Sydney-Hobart yacht race.

"The Government will tender to contract an operator to provide a pressurised, twin-engine turbine aircraft on permanent stand-by in Darwin, for AMSA operations," Mr Anderson said.

"The aircraft will be fitted with surface search radar and a Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) camera for improved night searching, and will be in the air within 30 minutes in an emergency. It will be faster and have a longer range than most other civilian aircraft operating in northern Australia," he said.

The aircraft is expected to be operational in early 2005. Search and rescue operations in northern Australia are currently carried out by general aviation companies using staff trained in search and rescue techniques as part of their overall operations.

Mr Anderson said the Government will develop a new system over the next two years to provide AMSA with the capability to drop life rafts and other life saving equipment from pressurised search and rescue aircraft, including the new aircraft in Darwin.

"At present, AMSA only has the capability to drop life rafts and emergency equipment from non-pressurised aircraft because the drops are carried out by removing or opening one of the doors of the aircraft. It would require significant engineering work to remove and replace doors on a pressurised plane and it would be likely to affect its ability to maintain air pressure.

"Pressurised, turbine-engine aircraft are very effective at carrying out searches because they are safe and fast; they are increasingly being used by the industry. We have to make sure, though, that we can drop life rafts and equipment from them without tasking a second, slower aircraft to do the job.

"The new capability could involve fitting hardpoints onto the outside of the aircraft or installing special floor hatches," he said.

Mr Anderson said the package would also enable AMSA to upgrade its Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra. The upgrade will involve changes to the layout and equipment in the centre, and will increase AMSA's ability to co-ordinate searches with outside organisations, such as the state and territory police forces.

Media contacts:

Paul Chamberlain Deputy Prime Minister's office 02 62777680 / 0419 233989