A proposal for countries to share air tankers resurfaces

Water scooping air tankers would travel between hemispheres on a repurposed or custom designed ship

Canadian Australian Strategic Firefighting Initiative vessel
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Canadian Australian Strategic Firefighting Initiative vessel. (Davie Shipyard)

A concept for sharing firefighting air tankers between the northern and southern hemispheres proposed in 2016 has resurfaced. The wildfire seasons in opposite times of the year could provide windows for the same aircraft to travel back and forth annually between North America and Australia or South America.

In 2016 Quebec-based Davie Shipyard suggested that the water scooping air tankers in Canada could be transported on a custom designed or converted ship and delivered to Australia at the end of the northern hemisphere fire season. Then the aircraft could be shipped back north before the Canadian fire season began.

For decades Canada has had success with CL-215/415 water-scooping air tankers first made by Bombardier. British Columbia based Viking Air Ltd presently owns the rights to Bombardier’s CL-415 air tanker. The company is now taking orders and deposits for its new-production CL-515 “First Responder” air tanker.

Below are excerpts from a January 14 article at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

“I think when we initially proposed the idea, it was too soon,” said Spencer Fraser, chief executive officer of Federal Fleet Service, the Davie Shipyard’s sister company. “There were still people within Canada and society that were denying extreme weather events and climate change. What’s important today is — look, it’s real. So let’s do something about it.”

No one from the Liberal government was willing to comment Monday — but there was word last week that officials in two federal departments had dusted off the proposal and had asked questions of Viking Air Ltd., the B.C. company which now owns the rights to Bombardier’s CL-415 water bomber.

Greg Mullins, the former fire commissioner of the state of New South Wales, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Jan. 3 that the country should tap into Canadian expertise and assets.

“Our prime minister should be on the phone with Justin Trudeau from Canada, right now, saying, ‘Justin, we need 20 or more of your water-scooping, purpose-built water bombers that are in mothballs during your winter,'” he said.

Fraser said the companies originally involved in the pitch in 2016 studied the logistics of flying water bombers between Canada and Australia and concluded it would be complicated, even perilous, to refuel the aircraft along the way in less-than-friendly nations.

In November, 2019 a group of 23 former fire and emergency services leaders and other former fire chiefs said they were concerned that with longer fire seasons now being experienced the current air tanker fleet in Australia is not adequate for keeping up with the increasing bushfire activity.

The acquisition and contracting of large air tankers in Australia is coordinated by the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC). They recently purchased a Boeing 737 air tanker, but like the federal government in the United States, the country depends on contractors to supply most of their large air tankers.

NAFC had planned on having five large air tankers available during the 2019/2020 bushfire season (including the government-owned 737), but as wildfire activity grew exponentially the agency kept adding more. By the end of next week they will have 10 large air tankers on contract plus the government-owned 737.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Viking teases development of CL-515

A video released last week touts a new model of an amphibious scooping air tanker

The proposed design for the new CL-515, according to the Viking promo video released December 20, 2018

On December 20, Viking Air released a video that describes in detail a new model of the scooping air tanker that could succeed the CL-415. The new CL-515, if it is ever built, is supposed to have a 15 percent larger tank holding up to 1,850 gallons (7,000 liters), and the ability to be outfitted with agriculture spraying equipment or carry up to 12 passengers or three stretchers. Other optional equipment could include a larger cargo door, video cameras, and search radar.

We asked a spokesperson for Viking if the description of the CL-515 in the video meant it would be produced, and if so when, we were told, “No official announcement made yet. The 515 video is a promotional tool for the time being to generate interest in the potential production aircraft.” The spokesperson declined to give us a date.

In March, 2018 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at McClellan Sacramento Airport, Viking’s director of Special Projects, Sales, and Marketing, Christian Bergeron, told us the company was currently gathering information from potential customers about what they would like to see on a new version of the CL-415. Mr. Bergeron said they expected to decide by the third quarter of 2018 if they would proceed with the project, which would be named CL-515.

Executive vice-president of sales and marketing for Viking, Robert Mauracher, told Flight Global in October, “We expect board approval for go or no-go [about building the CL-515] by the end of the first quarter next year”.

Bombardier stopped production of the CL-415 in 2015. The next year Viking acquired the worldwide amphibious aircraft program from Bombardier including the Type Certificates (manufacturing rights) for all variants of Bombardier’s amphibious aircraft, and assumed responsibility for product support, parts and service for the fleet of 170 water bombers in service with 21 operators in 11 countries around the world.

In a similar transaction in 2006 Viking acquired from de Havilland Canada the rights for the Twin Otter and re-launched production in 2007 after a 22 year hiatus, delivering over 140 aircraft in 30 countries. Viking also produces the DHC-7 Dash 7, the DHC-3 Otter, DHC-5 Buffalo, and the DHC-2 Beaver.

And, in November, 2018 Longview Aviation Capital Corp., parent company to Viking, agreed to acquire, through an affiliate, the entire Dash 8 program including the 100, 200 and 300 series and the in-production Q400 program from Bombardier Inc. Also included as part of the transaction are rights to the de Havilland name and trademark. Once completed, Longview will become North America’s largest commercial turbo-prop aircraft manufacturer.

Earlier in 2018 the Conair Group purchased six Q400 MR aircraft from Bombardier which it will convert into multirole air tankers for France’s Securite Civile (Department of Civil Defence and Emergency Preparedness). 

Longview Aviation Asset Management (LAAM) of Calgary, Alberta, in cooperation with Viking launched in May, 2018 the Viking CL-415EAF (“Enhanced Aerial Firefighter”) Conversion Program to include upgrades of many components. LAAM intended to hire up to 150 technical and support staff members at its Calgary facilities, where eleven specially selected CL-215 aerial firefighting aircraft owned by LAAM would undergo the modification process utilizing Viking-supplied conversion kits.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Isaac. Typos or errors, report them HERE.