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With British Columbia in a state of emergency, California battling the largest wildfire in recent memory, and more than a dozen European countries beating back forest fires, advanced firefighting equipment has never been more in demand.
But with adversity comes opportunity. And at the risk of spooking his board of directors, Dave Curtis, chairman of Longview Aviation Capital and chief executive of Viking Air, is considering the possibility of manufacturing a newer model of the CL-415 waterbomber.
“The worldwide fire situation is dire,” Curtis told the Abbotsford Aerospace, Defence and Security Expo in August. “With what is happening globally, [there is] significant interest for [firefighting capability].”
In 2016, Viking acquired from Bombardier the certificates for all variants of the Canadair-designed CL-215 piston-powered Scooper, including the CL-215T and the Bombardier-built 415 aircraft. In addition to assuming full responsibility for in-service support for a fleet of 170 amphibious aircraft in 11 countries, Viking also became the original equipment manufacturer, with all future design rights.
Curtis said the business case for producing a new variant, the CL-515, “is still being put together,” ergo his caveat that he did not want to get ahead of his board. But he suggested an announcement could be coming in the first quarter of 2019.
The case for a new version of the venerable CL-215, based on the turbine configuration, might not be hard to make. “You will not find a single resale of the 215,” said Curtis, noting that owners are still using the aircraft.
Bombardier stopped manufacturing the CL-415 in 2015. But in visits to customers since, Viking heard repeated interest in an upgraded aircraft.
“The demand is not only for aerial firefighting, but also maritime patrol. The aircraft has been certified for oil dispersant for oil spills, and there’s many more roles the aircraft can be deployed [for],” Curtis told Skies in 2017.
As a first step to meeting that customer need, Viking will convert older CL-215 aircraft to a CL-415 enhanced aerial firefighter (EAF) variant. On the eve of the Abbotsford airshow, Longview and its subsidiary, Viking, signed an agreement with Cascade Aerospace to provide training and resource support for the conversion program. Cascade previously converted nine CL-215 aircraft to the CL-215T for the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Cascade will train Viking staff on the first aircraft, slated to begin in September, at its facility in Abbotsford. The company will then support training at Viking’s facilities in Calgary for subsequent CL-415 EAF aircraft.
The program is based on the CL-215T configuration and includes two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW 123AF turboprop engines, digital avionics, upgraded power-assist flight controls, a new power distribution system, complete re-wiring and several structural changes.
“This is a complex modification and their expertise will lend itself to the development of the broader conversion program as a whole,” said Curtis.
Viking expects to hire up to 150 technical and support staff in Calgary to make the conversions.
“We want to be a partner with significant OEMs, commercial and military customers, and this is a big step forward in achieving our vision as a corporation,” said Kevin Lemke, Cascade’s executive vice- president and chief operating officer.
Curtis said the market for a CL-515 variant might be around 100 aircraft. But after successfully resurrecting the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter production line, Viking has gained the experience to leverage the CL-215 and 415, if the case can be made.