Manitoba converts to contractors for operating the Province’s air tankers

A contract was awarded to Babcock and Air Spray

Manitoba CL-415 air tanker
An employee polishes one of the Manitoba CL-415 air tankers in Manitoba that was delivered around 2012. (screen grab from ChrisD204 video)

The Canadian Province of Manitoba has decided to turn over the operation of its air tankers to a private company. The process began in June of this year when the province issued a request for proposals (RFP) which has resulted in a 10-year contract with Babcock who will work with Air Spray to operate the aircraft.

The deployment of the tankers will remain under the direction of Manitoba Wildfire Program staff.

The Wildfire Suppression Services contract includes the management, maintenance, and operation of Manitoba’s fleet of seven Canadair water-scooping amphibious aircraft (four CL-415s and three CL-215s), supported by three Twin Commander “bird-dog” aircraft. Manitoba will retain ownership of the air tankers, parts, inventory, special tools, and equipment but will transfer care and custody to the contractors.

In 2017, Babcock aircraft and crews carried out over 5,500 firefighting missions, dropped 174 million liters of water and logged over 20,000 hours in support of wildfire suppression.

The Manitoba government purchased four CL-415 scooping air tankers for $126 million that were delivered between 2010 and 2012, replacing some of the much older CL-215 tankers built between 1969 and 1990.

Based on operations in prior years, the Wildfire Suppression Service will provide approximately 1,400 flying hours and 3,750 water drops per year. Operations will cover the entire Province of Manitoba and will help to protect communities in a population of 1.3 million people.

“Our government is committed to protecting Manitobans from wildfires and that’s what this agreement delivers,” said Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler. “It will ensure faster response times, enhanced safety and a superior aircraft maintenance program.  It will make Manitoba’s wildfire suppression system even better.”

Lynn Hamilton, owner and President of Air Spray Ltd., said “the Province of Manitoba can be assured that our years as a leader in the air tanker industry and experience fighting wildfires throughout Western Canada can be relied on to provide outstanding service to the Province.”

Representatives of Babcock will be meeting with affected government employees in the very near future to discuss employment opportunities under the new operating structure, Mr. Schuler said.

A government employee’s union issued a statement in July a month after the RFP was announced.

“Our skilled members at Manitoba Government Air Services provide an essential, life-saving public service to Manitobans, getting critically ill patients to hospitals and protecting communities from forest fires,” said Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronsky at a press conference Friday. “These essential services should not be auctioned off as profit opportunities for private airline corporations.”

Manitoba still has a RFP out for both general transportation air services and for air ambulance services.

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