R-Mach Aviation's Richard McDonald and Peter McDonald.
R-Mach Aviation's Richard McDonald and Peter McDonald.

Ambitious bid to bring monster water bomber to Aus

After quietly trying to do whatever it takes to bring the Beriev BE-200 water bomber to Australia, Richard McDonald has now turned to social media.

The Rockhampton pilot is "passionate" about the ­potential for the amphibious Russian aircraft, which scoops up 12,000 litres in 14 seconds, to make a real difference in Australia.

In December 2018, he told The Morning Bulletin he was travelling to Russia to inspect the Beriev which would cut down the load-and-dump time from one an hour to every three minutes.

"I was down in Victoria at my parents' place this year, worried about my brother who was right in the thick of fighting the fires, thinking about how different things might be if we'd had the Beriev in place by now," he said.

"So I asked the cousins, the younger generation, to show me how to put stuff up on online.

"It's not a petition, but an awareness campaign as this is such a superior aircraft to what we are currently using.

So what it is that's prevented R-MACH Aviation from bringing to Rockhampton what its experienced pilot describes as the "best plane for the job"?

It's not the Australian politicians.

"Matt Canavan and his personal assistant have been helping out, David Littleproud's advisor is on board, Robert Schwarten has been absolutely amazing - he put me on to Anthony Albanese who spoke to Scott Morrison about it," Mr McDonald said.

"Mr Albanese mentioned our plight during a recent press conference."

Rather, he said, it was global politics at play.

"Australia actually has the perfect opportunity as we don't attract the same politics as Europe and America," Mr McDonald said.

"We could be the first country to embrace this unique aircraft outside of Russia, as our firefighting aircraft are all imported."

He is well and truly fed up with the red tape which has seen one deal after another, the latest in July 2019, fall over as a direct result of world politics.

R-MACH is representing Australian interests as part of a three-country conglomerate also including France and the United States.

"The main problem is the politics between America/Europe and Russia," Mr McDonald said.

"Twice we had contracts for ten of these planes to be delivered to Europe and USA and, at the last moment, the contracts fell through.

"It should take two years to have a plane certified in America and they started the process 10 years ago; America is afraid of the competition."

Mr McDonald said he would appreciate help from Australian authorities to have the aircraft properly evaluated.

"We have approached bodies such as the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, who seems to be only interested in the aircraft if it were certified and operational in Australia," he said.

"I would have thought this would be part of their task as the procurement gatherers for the states/territories and agencies.

"You would think that every aircraft available for firefighting would be properly evaluated in detail; this would mean going to the Beriev factory and having it demonstrated by the Beriev Aircraft company (as I have done).

"Remember this is the only purpose-built jet-powered amphibian firefighting aircraft available in the world today. So why can't Australia aim for the best?

"Not to mention its multi-role capabilities outside of the fire season: search and rescue, air ambulance, oil slick, cargo/passenger and other disaster relief."

Mr McDonald has poured years and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Beriev project which he said was finally gaining some traction.

"We can see that people are finally starting to seriously think about the Beriev BE-200".

So while fires continue to ravage other areas in Australia, R-MACH pilots are hamstrung.

They cannot send their SEATs (single engine air tankers they use on local fires) down to help in New South Wales and Victoria.

"It is so hard to watch and not be able to act," Mr McDonald said.

"It is a pity we do not have a more streamlined system (like they seem to have with fire personnel and other equipment) which will allow aircraft from one state to be operated in other states.

"There are at least 10 fully compliant waterbombing aircraft in Queensland - ours and other companies - sitting on the ground."

Mr McDonald said that since Australia "locked the bush up", locals knew the potential for this type of disaster, but probably didn't expect it to happen all at once.

"Maybe nothing could have prevented its spread but as we didn't have the Beriev BE-200 - with its multi-tasking potential, quick turn abounds, ability to operate during adverse conditions while other aircraft can't - we will never know.

"Hopefully with more awareness of the potential of this asset for our country we may one day see it here."

The NAFC has been approached for comment.

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