Cyprus Mail

Cyprus plans expansion of firefighting air fleet

European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius and Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou
European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius and Agriculture Minister Maria Panayiotou

The forestry department currently has a single operational firefighting plane at its disposal, but plans are underway to gradually expand the fleet and acquire self-owned airborne means rather than rely on rentals, officials said on Monday.

Speaking after a meeting here with Virginijus Sinkevicius, the European Commissioner for the Environment, the agriculture minister said that Cyprus is beefing up its airborne firefighting means as it preps for the coming fire season.

“Due to the weather conditions, for the first time ever this year we’re at full readiness from April 1 instead of May 1,” minister Maria Panayiotou told reporters.

And the period for employing firefighters has been increased to eight months, starting from April.

Panayiotou noted that the government has given instructions for the purchase of 10 firefighting aircraft – to be acquired over a five-year span.

She also recalled the recent decision, taken during a meeting chaired by President Nikos Christodoulides, to transfer the firefighting unit to the national guard.

Our priority is to safeguard the environment and to focus on fire prevention, as that is the primary and main pillar for dealing with fires, and that is why we have started boosting our ground-based resources,” she said.

For his part, acting director of the forestry department Andreas Christou said that right now they have one airplane that is operationally ready. The plane is based in Larnaca.

Regarding the acquisition (purchase) of additional aircraft, he said that two tenders are underway. For the first tender, concerning airplanes, the deadline for submission of bids expired on Monday. For the second, involving helicopters, the cutoff date for submission of bids expires at the end of April.

In the meantime, Christou noted, Cyprus relies on other airborne means that belong either to the police or the national guard. Authorities also cooperate with the British bases – which can deploy two helicopters – as well as with neighbouring countries should the need arise.

“Each year the [firefighting] aircraft go on standby as of May 1, and from then on we build up to the full capacity of our airborne means,” the official said.

Typically, full airborne firefighting capacity is reached by the end of May, featuring seven aircraft.

“This year we started a little earlier, from April 1, due also to the prevailing weather conditions. As far as ground-based forces are concerned, we’re at full deployment.”

Earlier this month, during a discussion in parliament, officials revealed that Cyprus had no firefighting aircraft available. A forestry department official told stunned MPs that the eight aircraft under the forestry department’s service were still being repaired.

As far as two private airplanes were concerned, one was set to return from Israel where it had been sent for repair works. The second would be ready in two-and-a-half months because its engine needed replacing.

In total, the department was waiting on eight aircraft, the same official had said.

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