Conair receives the first of eleven Q400s previously operated by Flybe

They will be converted into 2,640-gallon air tankers

first Flybe Q400 arrives at Conair
The first Flybe Q400 arrives at Conair facilities in Abbotsford, British Columbia, February 21, 2021. It will eventually replace one of the L-188 or CV-580 air tankers in the background. Conair photo.

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.

Conair Q400AT dropping. Photo by Alexandre Dubath
Conair Q400AT dropping retardant. Photo by Alexandre Dubath.

“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.

Fabricating a retardant tank Conair Q400AT
Fabricating a retardant tank for a Conair Q400AT. Photo by Jeff Bough.

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.

Conair Q400
File photo. Carefully maneuvering a Conair Q400 through a customized hangar door. Photo by Jeff Bough.

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3 thoughts on “Conair receives the first of eleven Q400s previously operated by Flybe”

  1. Hi these aircraft are really quite a good aircraft, Australian Qantas link have quite a few of them mostly used in roots the less patronised and many smaller country destinations.
    Also have been of the opinion from long time that Australia should have its own fire tankers was I do not believe that long-term tankers may not be available when we need them in the reason why is because the North American fire season is getting longer and overlapping with the Australia fire season.
    I also have a question to somebody who may know what’s the normal retardant drop rate?.

    1. The reason Australian fire agencies use the same aircraft that fly in North America is because it’s too expensive to have them sit idle for the 7 months they’re not required. Not many Australian companies are prepare to invest in large airtankers for use only 100-120 days per year. There’s currently adequate time to shuttle an aircraft between Canada & Australia to fill fire contracts in each hemisphere, even with the time required to perform extensive annual hangar maintenance and allowing for transit delays. One company kept an airtanker in Victoria over the southern winter a year or two ago, but now those aircraft have paying contracts that generate revenue for up to 8 months per year.

      There is no “normal” retardant drop rate, the tank can dump its entire load in about 2 seconds at max flow rate, or string it out for hundreds of metres with lighter coverage level. It depends on which setting is selected for the conditions and effect desired.

  2. Seems like a light fuel load for a dash carrying 23000 pounds of retardant!
    Barely feasible.

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