Seeing Through The Smoke: TracPlus’ Role in Aerial Firefighting in NZ

Dive into the challenges and trends in aerial firefighting, and see how TracPlus is leading the way in safeguarding against the growing threat of wildfires

New Zealand's landscapes, famed for their breathtaking beauty, are increasingly facing a formidable adversary: wildfires. These blazes, growing both in frequency and ferocity, are not just natural disasters but also complex challenges requiring sophisticated responses. In this high-stakes arena, aerial firefighting emerges as a critical frontline defence. It's a battle fought in the skies, where precision, speed, and strategy are key to protecting our lands, homes, and biodiversity.

Enter TracPlus, a local pillar of innovation in this aerial firefighting battle. Our cutting-edge technology and services are enabling a revolution in how New Zealand combats wildfires. From integrating advanced tracking systems to harnessing the power of contextual data, TracPlus is helping to redefine the aerial firefighting landscape. Central to this transformation, TracPlus plays a crucial role in the coordination of aerial firefighting efforts. Our data solutions have been instrumental in facilitating 100% of all aerial fire dispatches across the country. This comprehensive involvement ensures that decisions, critical in the urgency of firefighting, are made based on timely, accurate, and precise information.

But what does the future hold for aerial firefighting in New Zealand? How is TracPlus not just responding to, but also shaping, these evolving dynamics? In this article, we dive deep into the state of wildfires in New Zealand, explore the transformative role of TracPlus in aerial firefighting, and see how TracPlus is 'seeing through the smoke', revolutionising aerial firefighting in New Zealand with unparalleled data-driven solutions.

Escalating Wildfire Incidents

Recent years have seen a significant rise in wildfire incidents in New Zealand, both in their frequency and intensity. Major fires, including the Port Hills blaze, the Tasman fires, and significant events in Lake Ohau and Waiharara, have highlighted the growing severity of these challenges. These wildfires have not only ravaged extensive areas of land but also posed threats to homes, wildlife, and vital infrastructure, emphasising the need for robust aerial firefighting capabilities.

A notable aspect of New Zealand's wildfire scenario is the predominance of human-induced incidents, accounting for approximately 98% of all cases. This figure points to a critical area for improved prevention strategies. Compounding this issue is the impact of climate change, with New Zealand experiencing a rise in average temperatures by about 1.47°C since 1910. This change has led to more frequent and severe heat events. Additionally, a 10 to 20% decrease in cool season rainfall in the southern regions of the country has contributed to drier conditions, increasing susceptibility to ignition and rapid fire spread.

The economic ramifications of these wildfires are significant, with direct costs impacting New Zealand's economy by over $67 million annually. Including indirect costs, this amount can rise considerably, not to mention the far-reaching and often unquantifiable ecological impacts. Wildfires pose a serious threat to New Zealand's unique biodiversity, affecting a wide range of flora and fauna and disrupting fragile ecological systems.

In response to these growing challenges, aerial firefighting has become an indispensable component of New Zealand’s wildfire response strategy. The ability of aerial assets to rapidly respond, access remote areas, and deliver substantial quantities of fire suppressants efficiently is crucial. Particularly in scenarios where ground access is challenging or the pace of fire spread is rapid, aerial firefighting provides a critical advantage.

Furthermore, considering New Zealand's diverse terrain, which ranges from dense bush lands to rugged mountainous areas, the role of aerial firefighting becomes even more crucial. It offers the necessary flexibility and reach to effectively manage fires in these difficult environments. The capacity to monitor, evaluate, and respond to wildfires from the air is often the most viable, if not the only, option when confronting rapidly spreading fires.

The Challenge: Powering FENZ's Aerial Firefighting Operations with Reliable Data

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) plays a vital role in protecting New Zealand's natural and urban landscapes from wildfires. Central to this mission is the effective use and management of their extensive fleet of aircraft, dedicated to firefighting operations. Annually, FENZ allocates approximately $10 million towards General Aviation Services, translating into around 11,000 flight hours. This represents a significant scale of operations that necessitates precision, efficiency, and reliability.

The primary challenge in this high-stakes environment is the management and interpretation of the vast amount of data generated from various aerial firefighting missions. This task is complicated by the diversity of hardware systems used, each producing its own unique set of data. The essential requirement is not just data collection, but the transformation of this data into coherent, actionable intelligence that FENZ can rely upon for making quick and accurate decisions.

TracPlus: Bridging the Data Gap in Aerial Firefighting

TracPlus plays a critical role in this context, serving as the bridge between FENZ and the diverse data streams from over 65 different hardware providers. As a central data integrator, TracPlus harmonises these varied data sets into a single, unified stream. This capability is crucial in converting raw data into a standardised format, thus providing FENZ with a cohesive operational picture. Such integration by TracPlus ensures that tracking information, flight paths, and operational data from various aircraft are not only collected but also rendered accessible and practical for strategic firefighting operations.

Enhancing Dispatch Efficiency and Reliability

Beyond data integration, TracPlus significantly contributes to improving the efficiency and reliability of aerial firefighting operations. Utilising the ARENA system, FENZ can view and analyse consolidated data in real-time, enabling more effective deployment of aircraft, rapid response to evolving firefighting scenarios, and efficient resource management. This agility is crucial in fighting wildfires, where every second is critical, and decision-making needs to be both swift and informed.

The robustness and reliability of the TracPlus system are highlighted by endorsements from industry experts. Richard 'Mac' McNamara, the former National Manager of Operations and Aviation Lead for FENZ, speaks highly of the system’s resilience and effectiveness. “The TracPlus system has demonstrated its robustness, especially during peak firefighting periods. Its capability in providing reliable, real-time data is invaluable, enabling us to make critical decisions with greater confidence,” notes Mac.

Impact of TracPlus on the Lake Ohau Fire: Supporting Aerial Firefighting Efforts

The Lake Ohau wildfire of 2020 stands as a significant event in New Zealand's firefighting history, highlighting the importance of collaboration and technology in combatting such emergencies. TracPlus played a supportive role in this coordinated effort, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the aerial firefighting operations.

TracPlus' Supportive Role in the Lake Ohau Fire

  • Real-Time Coordination: During the Lake Ohau fire, TracPlus provided crucial support through real-time tracking and data integration services. This technology was instrumental in assisting command centres with the coordination of aerial assets, offering accurate, real-time location and activity data for each aircraft. This support helped in making informed, strategic decisions swiftly.
  • Effective Resource Allocation: The integration of TracPlus with the ARENA system enabled Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) to allocate resources more efficiently. This support ensured a more strategic dispatch of aircraft to critical areas of the fire, aiding in the overall suppression efforts.
  • Community Impact: The collaborative management of the Lake Ohau fire, with support from TracPlus technology, contributed positively to the surrounding communities. This cooperative effort helped in minimizing property damage and ensured the safety of residents, with TracPlus playing its part in this larger, concerted effort.

Innovation and Future Trends in Aerial Firefighting

Global Trends and Predictions for New Zealand

The global trend in aerial firefighting is shifting from mere location tracking of assets to a comprehensive collection and reporting of contextual information. This approach revolutionises how we assess the effectiveness of firefighting assets, providing an opportunity for unprecedented improvements in operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Contextual data, including the type of retardant used, quantities dropped, and precise locations on the fire front, now play a pivotal role in firefighting strategies. This data collection is key to calculating cost-per-liter for retardant deployment and evaluating the effectiveness of different response assets. A notable advancement in this area is the AFDAU-T1 device, which seamlessly integrates with existing aircraft systems, automating data collection and reporting. This technology allows operators to focus on their mission while accruing valuable data for effective decision-making.

We are witnessing a strategic shift from deploying large air tankers to utilising smaller, more agile aircraft like single-engine air tankers and helicopters. This change is driven by the benefits of shorter circuit times and a more targeted approach to firefighting. Additionally, the deployment of larger assets has proven to be cost-prohibitive and logistically challenging. In New Zealand, our diverse fleet, ranging from 400-litre to 2000-litre capacity, exemplifies efficiency. By deploying a combination of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, we can deliver an impressive 40,000 litres per hour, exemplifying the power of strategic asset utilisation.

Looking ahead, the focus will be on rapid initial attacks using smaller, quicker aircraft to contain fires effectively. This strategy aligns with the trend of maximising impact while minimising costs and logistical complexities. TracPlus stands at the forefront of this evolution, offering a globally trusted tracking and communications platform that enhances the coordination and efficacy of these firefighting efforts.


The landscape of aerial firefighting in New Zealand is undergoing a significant transformation. Driven by the escalating challenges of wildfires, the necessity for innovative and efficient firefighting strategies has never been more critical.

TracPlus has proven to be an indispensable ally in this fight. Our advanced tracking and data integration technologies have not only enhanced the capabilities of aerial firefighting but have also provided Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) and other agencies with the actionable intelligence crucial for swift and effective decision-making.

The shift towards collecting and utilising contextual data marks a new era in firefighting strategies. By leveraging technologies like the AFDAU-T1 device, TracPlus is facilitating a more nuanced and effective approach to wildfire management.

The trend towards employing smaller, more agile aircraft, and the focus on rapid initial attacks, underscores a strategic pivot in resource allocation and operational tactics. This approach not only maximises efficiency but also ensures a more targeted and impactful response to wildfires.

As we look to the future, TracPlus remains committed to staying at the forefront of technological innovation and strategic thinking in aerial firefighting. Our dedication to enhancing safety, reliability, and effectiveness in critical operations aligns with our core values and our mission to provide comprehensive solutions in the face of evolving challenges.

In conclusion, the importance of innovation, strategic asset utilisation, and a data-driven approach in aerial firefighting cannot be overstated. TracPlus stands ready to lead and support these efforts, ensuring that New Zealand’s response to wildfires is as effective and efficient as possible, safeguarding our communities and natural landscapes for generations to come.

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