EU plans to buy new firefighting planes as climate crises worsen
BRUSSELS, July 26 (Reuters) - The European Union wants to sign contracts this year for up to 12 firefighting planes, the first it would fully own, to improve its ability to fight blazes fuelled by climate change, the bloc's head of crisis management said.
The EU doubled its existing reserve fleet of firefighting aircraft in the past year, after devastating fires last summer in southern Europe exhausted its previous 13-craft capacity.
That fleet comprises 28 aircraft, which the EU pays to lease from EU countries' own fleets or the market, to form a bloc-wide buffer during the wildfire season. That doubling of numbers is expected to cost 23 million euros, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said.
But as climate change increases the risk of severe blazes, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said Brussels wanted contracts signed this year to buy 12 EU-owned craft, plus another 12 to bolster countries' own national fleets.
"We could have the first planes delivered two years later. And the whole fleet would be there by the end of the decade," Lenarcic told Reuters.
Manufacturer De Havilland Canada has agreed to re-launch production of the "Canadair" aircraft, if the EU orders are placed, Lenarcic said.
Six member states would sign the contracts: Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The EU would finance the purchase of the 12 planes for its own fleet, while member states would pay for their own.
De Havilland said in a statement it has completed its critical design review of the DHC-515 Firefighter and anticipates "completing contracts with our customers in the coming months, with first delivery before the fire season of 2027."
Europe is facing another summer of disastrous extreme weather. Wildfires in Greece have killed three people and caused thousands of tourists to evacuate, while Italian firefighters said they battled nearly 1,400 fires between Sunday and Tuesday.
"The situation that we see in southern Europe shows that we are in the climate crisis. It's already here," Lenarcic said.
EU countries are responsible for responding to wildfires and request assistance from the EU reserve only when they need back-up. The EU can also offer emergency support to non-EU countries.
The bloc received 11 such requests in 2022 and has had four this year so far - including in Greece and Tunisia, where EU reserve planes are currently battling blazes.
Lenarcic said climate change-fuelled impacts were now costing Europe at least tens of billions of euros per year - costs that would spiral if countries do not urgently reduce the burning of fossil fuels and the CO2 emissions heating the planet.
"The green transition is not going to be cheap. But what we need to explain to our citizens, to the voters, to the electorate, is that if it is not done, the consequences will be much more expensive," he said.
Reporting by Kate Abnett; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Alison Williams and Leslie Adler Article originally published on Reuters, available at https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/eu-plans-buy-new-firefighting-planes-climate-crises-worsen-2023-07-26/