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CAE announced plans in February to create a wildfire training and simulation centre in British Columbia, long before the disastrous fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.
But the lessons of Fort McMurray will help guide the company as it works toward opening the centre in 2018 with Abbotsford, B.C.-based Conair Aerial Firefighting as its anchor customer.
“The experiences in Fort McMurray and other locations are definitely demonstrating that this team environment is complex,” said Mike Greenley, vice-president and general manager of CAE Canada. “It’s increasingly complex. Fires are getting bigger [and] the number of assets coming in on them is increasing. You’ve got a combination of helicopters, the waterbombers that are dropping down into lakes, scooping up water and dropping it on the fire. And then these long-range chemical bombers, all working in coordination in the same airspace under coordination of the air attack officers.”
Aerial firefighting is similar to a tactical military operation, so there is an opportunity for the training environment to reflect that and to be able to train teams, continued Greenley.
CAE has signed a contract with Conair for the centre, which would be located in Abbotsford and would feature a CAE-built Avro RJ85 full-flight simulator qualified to Level D, the highest qualification for flight simulators.
The drive to create the centre is prompted in part by a market created with the conversion of RJ85 regional airliners into aerial firefighting assets. Other operators are using the aircraft primarily in Canada’s North, where it’s possible to complete short takeoffs and landings on gravel runways, said Greenley.
“In Canada, there’s a decent cluster of these aircraft now being used,” he added. “There’s going to be at least three operators picking up RJ85s out of the global market, and then the biggest operator is Conair, converting them into aerial firefighting assets in both Canada and the United States.”
The training centre will be suitable for giving pilots their certifications and re-certifications to fly the RJ85, but CAE will add enhancements to the simulation environment for firefighters.
“They have very good visuals, very good, realistic firefighting scenes and a good modelling of the chemical release into those fires, so that we can do mission-specific training for the firefighter customers,” said Greenley.
CAE expects the centre to be part of a distributed simulation network that connects wildfire training and coordination centres throughout Canada.
“We would have additional simulators for other aircraft types that could go into Abbotsford,” he continued. “In addition, some of the provinces have their own simulators. So we would look at the potential of connecting provincial simulators in other provinces into our network to work on team training.”
Ultimately, Greenley expects the new centre in B.C. to increase crew availability and reduce costs for operators, while providing safer training.
“You just use a simulator today to get your type certificate as a pilot or a co-pilot of the aircraft, and then you do everything else in a live aircraft,” he said. “Now, we’ll be able to introduce simulation to learn the trade of aerial firefighting. So that’s going to decrease the cost to the operator and increase the training opportunities for the crew.
“We’re going to be able to have a safe environment to put them in stressful aerial firefighting scenarios, which will hopefully even further increase their already high skill levels in a very safe and cost-effective manner.”