Abbotsford’s Conair Group Inc. made a big purchase recently to continue creating new firefighter airtankers. (Submitted)

Abbotsford’s Conair expanding fleet of firefighting airtankers

Local group creating new Q400AT planes to fight wildfires across the globe

Abbotsford’s Conair Group Inc. announced on Wednesday (Jan. 13) that they have purchased 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircrafts to be converted into airtankers engineered specifically for aerial firefighting.

The purchase marks the most significant investment Conair has made to date towards developing a fleet of next generation aircraft designed to better fight wildfires for years to come.

According to a press release from the company, planes used to fight wildfires as airtankers are often older models and are flown into demanding environments, inevitably resulting in metal fatigue over time. In addition, aircraft designed to obsolete standards leads to increased risk of incidents, costly repairs, limited replacement parts, and ultimately time grounded from fighting fires.

RELATED: Conair Group provides 26 planes for wildfire situation

Conair believes this new line of airtankers, called the Q400AT, is the future of aerial firefighting and is set to be the most advanced airtanker in the world.

“We evaluated 29 aircraft before selecting the Q400 for modification into an aerial firefighting tool,” stated Jeff Berry, the director of business development at Conair. “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. The Q400AT is fast, fuel efficient, and tactically flexible, operating both initial attack as well as sustained support actions. The Q400 is still in production and has strong Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) support from De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (De Havilland Canada), guaranteeing availability of parts and servicing for years.”

Conair has been modifying the Q400 into airtankers since 2005, and have been flown more than 8,000 hours with a fleet availability for dispatch rate of 98.5%. The Conair Q400MR multi-role and Q400AT airtanker are similar in design, with both featuring an external 10,000-litre tank. Four Q400MR aircraft are in operation in France, with four more on order, and the company’s first Q400AT airtanker was placed in operation in Queensland, Australia in September of 2020. In total, the company has purchased six new and 13 used Q400 aircraft within the last two years.

“We look forward to manufacturing the Q400 aircraft into airtankers out of our hangars in Abbotsford, British Columbia, employing a group of specialists during a particularly tough time for the aviation industry,” stated Barry Marsden Conair CEO. “It makes us proud that this Canadian-made, De Havilland Canada airframe, powered with Canadian-made Pratt and Whitney engines, will be modified by our team in Canada, and then put into operation around the world to help our partners suppress wildfires for what could be decades.”

Conair, an Abbotsford-based specialty aircraft operations company, was established in 1969 and employs over 330 people. The company has operations in Canada, USA, France and Australia and is considered the world’s most experienced aerial firefighter operator.

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