Backing a winner

By Jason McNaught

C295 aircraft. (Fernando Morales Fernandez)

C295 aircraft. (Fernando Morales Fernandez)

Set atop a rocky outcrop in the middle of the ocean, Newfoundland is a province that regularly sees the worst of Mother Nature. Despite record snowfalls, dense fog, and powerful winds, the people of Canada’s easternmost province have learned to adapt to the unique challenges that Newfoundlanders face on a daily basis, overcoming weather, location, and a fickle economy not only to survive, but to succeed.

Based in the historic and rugged port of St. John’s, Provincial Aerospace Ltd., or PAL, is a company that exemplifies the traits of the people who call Newfoundland their home. Since 1972, this organization has adapted and innovated itself to become one of the top aerospace and defence companies in Canada — not from Toronto, not from Ottawa, but from one of the smallest and most remote capital cities in the country.

In November, Provincial Aerospace’s legacy of success paid off when Winnipeg-based Exchange Income Corp. (EIC) acquired the company, providing it with the tools necessary to increase worldwide growth and their footprint in Newfoundland. “I’m not sure I’ve seen a deal with a better labour pool, better staff and, in particular, a senior management team,” said Mike Pyle, chief executive officer of EIC. “For us, it was a perfect fit.”

This has been a monumental year for PAL and “perfect fits.” Just one month earlier, in October, Provincial Aerospace reached a teaming agreement with Airbus Defence and Space to pursue Canada’s fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) aircraft program with the Airbus Military C295 aircraft.

Esprit de Corps sat down with Pablo Molina Perez, head of Airbus Defence and Space’s Military Aircraft division in Canada, and PAL’s Derek Scott, VP of Programs, to learn more about the aircraft, and why both companies believe the C295 is the best fit for Canada’s future FWSAR missions.

EdeC: The C295 is not a developmental aircraft. Most people who are familiar with the FWSAR program already know that the C295 has been carrying out a variety of missions all over the world. But why, in a crowded field of competitors, is the C295 the right choice for Canada?

Airbus: The C295 is proven, low-risk, and provides the most cost-effective solution available to Canada for FWSAR. Around the world, we have already sold approximately 150 aircraft to 21 different operators. Nine of them have placed repeated orders. When it comes to search and rescue, our biggest client is currently the United States Coast Guard. They are currently operating 18 CN235 aircraft. That gives you a good indication about the level of trust that is there with our aircraft.

EdeC: A good track record is important, especially when it comes to the unique geographic and weather-related challenges Canada will present for future FWSAR aircraft, but other competitors are offering tried-and-true aircraft as well. What puts the C295 at the front of the pack?

Airbus: When talking about search and rescue aircraft, we are not talking just about the aircraft itself; we are also talking about a comprehensive “search and rescue solution.” You need to have the aircraft, but you also need the mission system to go with it. You can’t have one without the other. The C295 — with our fully-integrated tactical mission system — is already being flown by three different operators: Oman, the Portuguese Air Force, and Chile. … We have 30 years of experience in developing these types of systems, and they’ve also been proven in other aircraft, such as the CN235, the former C12, and the P3 Orion.

EdeC: Whenever there’s a competition for an aircraft in Canada, the question of operating in the Arctic is raised. For the FWSAR program, this question is especially important, as Canada’s future search and rescue aircraft will need to be able to perform in the most severe conditions. Is the C295 capable of operating in extreme environments?

Airbus: We have extensive experience operating the C295 in cold weather. We started with our C212s operating in Antarctica, by a contracted company that flies back and forth supplying air bases there. Obviously, we have taken this experience into account when producing new aircraft. In the specific case of the C295, we have been operating in Finland in addition to aircraft operating in Poland and Kazakhstan, two countries that are known for their cold winters. 

EdeC: Derek, the recent announcement of the teaming agreement between Airbus Defence and Space and Provincial Aerospace means that your company is joining a strong field of partners. Why does PAL think the C295 is the right FWSAR aircraft for Canada?

PAL: We are very proud of our relationship with Airbus. The C295 is a renowned aircraft and a world leader in its class. We are very happy to note that we have a long list of satisfied customers around the world using this platform, and PAL can definitely stand on its own experience and say that the research we’ve done, and what we’ve seen, is that the C295 is the right aircraft for the job.

EdeC: What kind of expertise is PAL bringing to the C295 team?

Scott: PAL is built on a foundation of providing airborne surveillance services to the Government of Canada. We actually do that for a number of departments, including the Department of National Defence. We have used the core competencies that we need to support and implement that type of airborne maritime surveillance program and evolve ourselves into a fully-integrated international aerospace defence company with a primary focus on aircraft modification, business systems integration, surveillance operations in some cases, and in-service support for all of those operations and aircraft that we have put out there around the world. In total, PAL has over 200,000 hours of flying special missions operations in Canada’s vast environments — most of our oceans, most of our regions — so when you take that type of experience and put that on the international stage, it becomes a very marketable commodity for a company like PAL.