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.

Interview with Mikey McBryan of Buffalo Airways

The company has 11 DC-3’s

During the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week I interviewed Mikey McBryan, the General Manager of Buffalo Airways in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories which was founded by his father,”Buffalo” Joe McBryan. He talked about the company’s P3 air tanker, their numerous other air tankers, their 11 DC-3’s, his father’s 10,000 flight hours in a single DC-3, the history of Buffalo Airways, and the additional aircraft in their fleet. And he gets in a plug for “Ice Pilots” on Netflix.

Air tanker struck by lightning

Occurred after takeoff from Williams Lake, BC

One of Air Spray’s L-188 air tankers, Tanker 481, was struck by lightning after taking off from the airport at Williams Lake, British Columbia. Thankfully, there were no reported injuries to the two-person crew or the aircraft.

The amazing photo was taken by Amanda Beddington.

Here is a link to a photo of T-481 sitting safely on the ground.

Interesting assortment of emergency equipment at Whitehorse

Above: Tanker 47 (a Convair 340-31), Tanker 49 (a Convair 440-580), an F-18, and a couple of fire engines at Whitehouse International Airport, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada June 6, 2017. Photo by Doug Cote.

Doug Cote sent us this photo and said the annual migration of air tankers to Alaska is ongoing. He shot this photo today of an assortment of emergency equipment at Whitehorse.

N.W.T. new scoopers to be operated by Buffalo Airways

Buffalo P3 Joe McBryan
File photo: Ronald Guy (left) of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan (right) of Buffalo Airways, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base March 19, 2014. Buffalo Airways had just purchased Tanker 22. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Northwest Territories has awarded a contract to Buffalo Airways to operate their eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers. The government of the NWT inherited six CL-215 piston-powered scooper air tankers. They are being replaced by the FireBoss scoopers at a cost of about $26 million. Buffalo Airways scored a five-year contract to operate the new turbine-powered SEATs.

This seems be a trend. In 2015 the state of Minnesota sold their two CL-215s and replaced them with four FireBoss SEATs.

Air Tractor 802-F FireBoss
Air Tractor 802F FireBoss. NWT photo.

The FireBoss is amphibious, able to take off from a runway and land or scoop water on a lake.

Buffalo Airways previously operated the CL-215s for NWT. In their own fleet the company has eight air tankers: a Lockheed Electra, three Douglas DC-4s, and four CL-215s. As far as we know they have not yet starting operating the P3 they bought in 2014 as an air tanker. The last we heard it was receiving some maintenance in Florida.

Report released about the 2014 crash of an AT-802 in British Columbia

On July 14, 2016 the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada released the Investigation Report about the crash of a Conair Air Tractor AT-802A that occurred August 14, 2014. The crash took place as the air tanker was attempting to lift off after scooping water on Chantslar Lake in British Columbia. The pilot incurred minor injuries and the aircraft sank.

AT-802F
File photo of an Air Tractor 802-F. Air Tractor photo.

The investigators concluded that a wing stalled either independently or in combination with an encounter with a wing-tip vortex generated by another aircraft.

Below is the TSB’s Summary of the incident:

An Air Tractor AT-802A on amphibious floats (registration C-GXNX, serial number AT- 802A-0530), operating as Tanker 685, was carrying out wildfire management operations during daylight near Chantslar Lake, British Columbia. Three similar aircraft were working as a group with Tanker 685, which was second in line on a touch-and-go to scoop water from Chantslar Lake. Upon liftoff, control was lost and the aircraft’s right wing struck the water. The aircraft water-looped, and the floats and their support structure separated from the fuselage. The aircraft remained upright and slowly sank.

The pilot received minor injuries, egressed from the cockpit, and inflated the personal flotation device being worn. The third aircraft in the formation jettisoned its hopper load as it continued its takeoff and remained in the circuit. The fourth aircraft jettisoned its hopper load, rejected its takeoff, and taxied to pick up the accident pilot. There was sufficient impact force to activate the on-board 406- megahertz emergency locator transmitter, but the search-and-rescue satellite system did not detect a signal from the emergency locator transmitter until the wreckage was being recovered 6 days later.

The TSB’s findings, in part:

1. A wing stalled either independently or in combination with an encounter with a wing-tip vortex generated by the lead aircraft. This caused a loss of control moments after liftoff, and resulted in the right-hand wing tip contacting the water and in a subsequent water-loop.

2. The operator’s standard takeoff procedures did not specify a liftoff speed for scooping operations. Lifting off below the published power-off stall speed contributed to a loss of control at an altitude insufficient to permit a recovery.

3. The takeoff condition, with the aircraft heavy, its speed below the published power-off stall speed, and a high angle-of-attack contributed to the loss of control.

4. An understaffed management structure during organizational changes likely led to excessive workload for existing managers. This contributed to risks, contained within the standard operating procedures, not being addressed through the operator’s safety management system, resulting in continued aircraft operations below published minimum airspeed limitations.

The report states that Conair hired a safety manager and a company check pilot for the Fire Boss fleet before the 2015 spring training season started. And, Conair adopted a risk mitigation plan for 2015–2016, applicable to the company’s AT-802 fleet. The plan addresses issues mentioned in the TSB report, plus an additional issue identified in-house.

The year following the August 14, 2014 crash on Chantslar Lake there were three incidents that we are aware of that involved Conair AT-802’s:

Coulson had both Martin Mars aircraft in the water this week

Coulson has been working on both of their Martin Mars aircraft, the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars. At one point this week both of them were floating in Sproat Lake adjacent to the Coulson facility for the flying boats.

Philippine Mars
The Philippine Mars on Sproat Lake this week. Alberni Valley News photo by Susan Quinn. See numerous other Mars photos at their website.

The company has repainted the Philipine Mars. It no longer has the red and white air tanker colors and now resembles its original military paint scheme. Coulson is still pursuing a plan to sell or trade the aircraft.

The Hawaii Mars is scheduled to make its first trip to the Oshkosh air show July 25 through July 30.

If you like the sound of four 18-cylinder big-ass radial engines, turn up the sound for this video.