The first of 11 De Havilland Canada DHC-8 Q400 aircraft purchased by Conair has arrived on Canadian soil after being ferried across the Atlantic from Europe.
As we reported January 14, the Conair Group plans to retire all of their legacy L-188 and CV-580 air tankers and over the next two to three years replace them with Q400s. The repurposed aircraft will be converted at Conair’s facilities in Abbotsford, British Columbia to air tankers capable of holding up to 2,640 gallons of retardant.
When Flybe, the airline based in Exeter, England, closed its doors March 5, 2020 they were operating 54 Q400 and 9 Embraer 175 airliners. At the time Conair was looking to upgrade their fleet so they signed a deal to purchase 11 of the Q400 aircraft formerly operated by Flybe. They were purchased from HEH Hamburger EmissionsHaus, through Skyworld Aviation.
“We evaluated 29 aircraft before selecting the Q400 for modification into an aerial firefighting tool. The unanimous opinion of our flight operations experts was that the Q400 exceeds all the Next Generation performance criteria within a maneuverable and stable platform.” says Jeff Berry, Director of Business Development at Conair. The company converted their first Q400 in 2005.
“The first step in the conversion process is an interior de-mod, or stripping down the cabin to the bare frame in order to reduce the aircraft’s weight.” says Dustin Littler, Aircraft Conversion Manager at Conair. “The cockpit is then opened up to allow for access to install specialized avionics.” The flight deck is equipped with a Conair developed and Transport Canada certified Flight Envelope Awareness System, which provide pilots with enhanced safety awareness information such as instantaneous G-Loading, slow speed awareness, and angle of attack information.
The airtanker will be outfitted with an external tank, enabling the interior of the fuselage to remain pressurized and climate controlled, creating a safer environment for pilots by reducing fatigue, Mr. Littler explained. “It takes a solid 8 weeks to install the tank, fairings, and perform avionics modifications, plus another 2 weeks to reassemble the cockpit, and perform operational tests, ground runs and test flights.” he said. “The tank is manufactured, tested and calibrated prior to the install on the Dash 8.” The Q400AT is painted in Conair’s signature white, red and black colors to complete the process.
In 2017 the Conair Group secured a deal to sell six Q400MR (Multi-Role) air tankers to France’s Securite Civile (Department of Civil Defence and Emergency Preparedness). These were new aircraft that Conair purchased from Bombardier which can be reconfigured in a few hours to carry passengers, hence the Multi-Role designation. The new aircraft are replacing France’s old S-2 air tankers.
Conair calls the stripped-down version a Q400AT (air tanker) and it does not have passenger seats, a rest room, or galley. Mr. Berry said February 23 that if another organization wanted to purchase a Q400MR, they would retain the rest room and galley for the comfort of the passengers on long flights. It would be able to hold up to 2,450 gallons.
The company presently has two A400ATs operational within their fleet that will be used this year for the first time in the North American fire season. They had one under contract in Australia during the 2020-2021 bushfire season.