Prime Minister António Costa
Prime Minister António Costa tweeted: "This investment has made a decisive contribution to the paradigm shift in the integrated management of rural fires, prioritising prevention without neglecting the need to build capacity to fight". Image: @antoniocostapm

Portugal’s ‘new’ Black Hawks “will only start firefighting in 2026”

First four of 11 ‘new’ helicopters presented in Ovar aerodrome

The build-up to Portugal’s purchase of six Black Hawk firefighting helicopters and five Koalas has fallen a tad flat, after it was initially suggested the aircraft would be ready in time for the 2023 fire season.

With that fire season now behind us, the truth appears to be that the Black Hawks won’t be ‘ready’ to tackle wildfires before 2026.

Two were among the four helicopters presented at Ovar aerodrome yesterday, in the presence of prime minister António Costa.

According to reports, the next two years will be taken up with training (for both pilots and mechanics), and test flights (for the pilots). But even this depends on the availability of pilots. Tabloid Correio da Manhã explains that 10 vacancies for pilots were launched within the €70 million tender for these 11 new aircraft “but currently only four are in training.

“The crisis of pilots is a concern of the Portuguese Air Force, and could put at risk” the whole operational timeline.

Nonetheless, the contract is moving forwards: four further Black Hawks will be delivered in 2024 and 2025, says the paper – and then a tender for the other three helicopters will be launched “before the end of this year” (ie in a matter of weeks).

Presenting the first aircraft yesterday, the PM said: “We have increased 11 times the investments dedicated to (fire) prevention, passing from €28 million to €328 million a year”. The results have been plain to see: already this year has been hailed as the ‘best’ in terms of wildfires, and area burnt, in the last decade – and the first year ever in which no one has died in a rural fire.

The Black Hawk purchase was first trailed in the summer of 2022. There was then a slight controversy over the age of these helicopters, some of which could be as much as 35 years old.

According to CM, Portugal’s Black Hawks have autonomy for two and a half hours’ flying, and capacity for 2,950 litres of water.

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