Contract out hill-fire work

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 October, 1998, 12:00am

I would like to congratulate Edward Stokes on his excellent article on hillside blazes (South China Morning Post, October 20) and his proposal to combat the fires by using more fire-fighting helicopters.

The statistics on the cost of this annual debacle are quite staggering but so indeed are the costs for the use of additional Government Flying Service (GFS) Black Hawk helicopters. The Black Hawk is not the machine for the job. The GFS can hardly justify the enormous capital outlay, running costs and low utilisation for their existing three Black Hawks, let alone buy more. Yes, the answer is to use fire-fighting helicopters, but not Black Hawks, and not run by the GFS.

The Government could contract out to a commercial helicopter operator at a fraction of the cost. There are helicopters available that can lift the same 2,500-litre water bucket at a capital outlay of only HK$30 million each and running costs of about HK$8,000 per hour (about one-fifth of Mr Stokes' estimates for the Black Hawk).

A commercial operator would be dedicated to the role of quenching fires and leave the GFS free to carry on with the work they do well - namely search and rescue, air ambulance and law enforcement.

For a relatively small outlay the Government could engage the services of a dedicated fire-fighting helicopter service and bring this annual countryside carnage under control.