A fleet of 70 aerial firefighting aircraft have deployed for the fire season from British Columbia (BC) based operator Conair.
The fleet includes a mix of fixed-wing aircraft including Bird Dog lead planes, amphibious waterbombers and airtankers.
The Dash 8-400AT
Included in this group is the Dash 8-400AT, the newest airtanker available in the world today, converted by Conair.
Four of these new large airtankers worked the month of May in Alberta, a first for the province, responding to a challenging and early fire season, supporting firefighter partners.
The Dash 8-400 airtanker, while new to Canada, has been operating since 2005. The multi role version of this aircraft is owned and operated by the Government of France, a fleet of eight built by Conair.
Each aircraft is role equipped for operations including medevac, passenger, cargo, combi plus airtanker capability.
Conair adapted this aircraft into an airtanker-only version, the Dash 8-400AT, and introduced it to Australia in 2020, Alaska in 2021 and BC in 2022.
The fleet has grown steadily over the last several years as new airtankers are certified by Transport Canada, the only regulating authority in the world recognizing aerial firefighting as its own air operation classification, with stringent guidelines in place to ensure airtankers operating in Canada do so safely.
Retirement of Convair CV580
This year in Canada, BC welcomes three Dash 8-400ATs, with one positioned in Fort St. John and two based in Penticton, taking the place of the now retired Convair CV580 fleet.
“Retiring our legacy fleet of Electra L188 and Convair CV580 aircraft was necessary as the supply of parts was dwindling globally,” shares Jeff Berry, Vice President of Business Development with Conair.
“We reached a point where we could not guarantee the serviceability needed for an emergency response aircraft so we proactively replaced our fleet with a modern airtanker.”
“The Dash is fully supported by De Havilland Canada, the Original Equipment Manufacturer, ensuring an abundant supply of parts is readily available to keep the airtanker flying for decades. This provides the level of reliability we require.”
Supplemental contract airtankers
Conair’s fleet of Dash 8-400AT is set to further expand, with two aircraft more currently in production this year. The operator states that further additions are on the horizon as demand grows.
But Canada isn’t limited to just these three Dash 8-400 airtankers for wildfire response. Through long standing interagency agreements, aerial firefighting airtankers on contract with Canadian jurisdictions and US states can be shared if need arises.
An example, utilizing the Northwest Wildland Fire Protection Agreement, Alaska has on loan to Alberta two of its contracted Dash 8-400AT airtankers.
If provinces or territories across Canada need additional airtanker support, Transport Canada certified tankers are ready to assist through established compacts.
Two Dash 8-400AT airtankers, for instance, are currently on contract through Washington state, ready to support Canada if conditions permit and the need arises.
Dash 8-400AT capability
The Dash 8-400AT fits the bill for all regions across Canada, filling a growing niche in the aerial firefighting industry.
It offers large airtanker payload capacity, capable of dropping up to 10,000 litres of retardant, foam or water, while still being able to operate out of smaller airtanker bases with 5,000’ runways at higher elevations, positioned closer to where wildfires occur.
“As an aerial firefighting pilot operating in mountainous terrain, I have greater confidence in the Dash over other airtankers I have flown. The sheer power and efficiency of the PW150A engines is a wonderful thing. It takes off fast and gets to the fire as fast as a jet” shares Captain Chris Bingham.
“The tanker also burns far less fuel than other large airtankers. In some instances, the tanker can drop more than double the payload for fuel burned.”
“This means we can continue more reloads and returns to the fire before requiring a refueling stop. That’s 10,000 litres per drop, drop after drop.”
Canadian wildfire season
The Canadian wildfire season is typically from May to September, but it has been starting earlier and lasting longer in recent years.
The 2023 wildfire season is shaping up to be one of the worst on record, with more than 100,000 hectares of land already burned. The fires have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes, and have caused extensive damage to property and infrastructure.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the severity of the Canadian wildfire season, including:
Warmer temperatures: Climate change is causing temperatures to rise in Canada, which is leading to longer and more intense fire seasons.
Drought: Drought conditions dry out vegetation, making it more susceptible to fire.
Wind: Strong winds can fan the flames of wildfires, making them more difficult to control.
Human activity: Human activity, such as campfires and back-country smoking, can also spark wildfires.