During the bushfires in October and November 2023, the Tenterfield Aerodrome was used by NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) aircrafts, making a significant difference to firefighting efforts.
This was only possible because of the Friends of Tenterfield Aerodrome's (FOTA) works on the airstrip, since leasing the site from Tenterfield Shire Council six-months-ago, had it prepared.
The group was recognised for these efforts at the council's 2024 Australia Day Awards, where they were presented with the Emergency Services Volunteer Group of the Year award.
FOTA was formed 18-months-ago to campaign to keep the Tenterfield Aerodrome open and for it to not be sold, realising that a private sale could see the site closed in the future.
The association was chosen to lease the aerodrome long term, which can be extended for 30 years, and take on all expenses of owning, operating and maintaining the airstrip away from council.
This maintenance work is carried out by volunteers and includes regular mowing and repair work around the aerodrome.
However, the addition of a large water tank and pipe work, which FOTA were able to get funding to install, were critical in assisting the RFS.
FOTA president, Rob Evans - who was also awarded Tenterfield's Citizen of the Year for his work with FOTA and as an Angel Flight pilot - said he believes the aerodrome's use during the bushfires was the trigger for the award.
"The airport really showed just how critical an asset it was for Tenterfield," he said.
"We were able to get firefighting aircraft coming in there, taking on loads of water and dumping it on the fires close to Tenterfield, Jennings, Wallangarra, in this area. That made a really significant difference to the firefighting.
"And of course, the guys on the ground ultimately put the fires out, but the aircraft were able to deliver probably four or five times the volume of water that they could have done if they had not been working from the aerodrome."
Of the recognition, Mr Evans said it could help to garner needed support, in ensuring the aerodrome becomes a disaster readiness hub for the area, at the state and federal level.
"It will maybe help us get more funding, but more importantly, it's the support from the community here and more widely around the decision makers who can assist in making sure this is a sustainable airport," he said.
"We see that it's not just disaster readiness, but it's the financial benefits that it brings into the community, whether that's tourism or business.
"You get people who fly in to play golf ... they go bird watching, fishing, just coming here to stay, buy and build a house, and we have a number of people who want to build hangars here and base their aircraft here.
"All of those things will contribute to the economy and help Tenterfield long term, and keep the Shire sustainable, as well as keep the airport sustainable."
The group now has funding in total of $250,000, which will allow them to do further works to improve the runway and taxiways, provide power, and more, making it a more effective base for the RFS to operate from.
"We've been having a lot of discussions with RFS, Westpac Rescue, NSW Ambulance and other emergency services about making sure that the works we do at the airport are going to support their operations," said Mr Evans.
Later this month on Saturday, February 24, FOTA will be hosting its Fabulous Fete at the Aerodrome from 10am.
It will feature a water dump demonstration from Firefighting Pilots and their Flying Machines (if not out fighting fires), food, raffles, market stalls, an information display from Angel Flight, NSW RFS and Ambulance, light aircraft flying in and model aircraft displays.
Locals are encouraged to come down and show their support for the "superb contribution" the firefighters and the many support workers make to the community.