Flying was the only job Tony Franc ever knew.
He became a pilot when he left school and had not spent more than a week out of the air since.
Mr Franc and his wife spent years working for Air Warrnambool but he was most recently working for Tiger Air.
The couple lived in Melbourne with their two children Ava, 7, and Jack, 3.
Life was good. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and Tiger Air stood down its pilots.
Mr Franc said it was a worrying time as he is the sole income earner, with Mrs Franc staying home with their children.
"It was quite a challenging time," he said.
Mr Franc found a job at a call centre handling customer inquiries.
"It wasn't the best environment," he said. "I went from being in the air and meeting different people to only hearing from people if they had a problem. It was a job and I just did what I needed to do to look after the family."
When he saw a job advertised with Coulson Aviation Australia, he applied.
"I kept my fingers crossed," Mr Franc said.
He was delighted to find out he was one of four pilots who would be flying a bird dog aircraft to help support the NSW Rural Fire Service.
The role is based in Sydney and Mr Franc had been commuting, working two weeks on and two weeks off.
Mr Franc said the pandemic meant he would often have to wait hours at the airport when he arrived home in Melbourne due to strict border controls.
He said the family was about to relocate to NSW.
Mr Franc said he was humbled to be given the opportunity to help support the community.
"It's exciting to be not only working for one of the world leaders in aerial fire fighting, but also be able to help the firefighters on the ground," he said.
Mr Franc and his fellow pilots have undergone intensive training. "We have very experienced trainers who have been flying for many years in the bird dog role in the US," he said.
He said the role of the bird dog was to lead air tankers into fire affected areas and use scanning equipment to map the progress of the fire and identify hot spots.
The plane has technology that allows the information to be sent to the NSW Rural Fire Service. "It's real time technology that hasn't been used in Australia before," Mr Franc said.
The technology can also be used for flood mapping.
Coulson Aviation Australia chief executive officer said the Coulson team was proud to be supporting the NSW Rural Fire Service.
"We've been in Australia for 20 years, providing aerial support across multiple Australian states including during Black Saturday and most recently the Black Summer bushfires and we are focused on bringing to Australian communities every bit of experience and innovation we have.
"Providing crucial and effective aerial firefighting and disaster support to the communities of NSW as members of the NSW RFS team has our full and total focus," he said. 'We've learned through many major fire campaigns globally the enormous effect of large capacity air tankers in managing bushfires, particularly when we bring the fight at night; this results in lives saved and houses standing and that's why we do what we do.'
"These formidable aircraft form an important part of the arsenal with which our state's emergency services keep us all safe."
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