By David Pugliese
It took more than 12 years for the process to unfold, but the Royal Canadian Air Force is finally getting a new search and rescue aircraft.
Procurement Minister Judy Foote and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced December 8 that the government had selected the Airbus C295W aircraft for its new fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) plane.
The RCAF will receive 16 C295Ws modified for search and rescue. The contract will also include in-service support, provided through a joint venture between Airbus Defence and Space and PAL Aerospace.
“This aircraft is a game-changer for search and rescue in Canada,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told journalists during the announcement at Trenton, Ontario. A $2.4-billion contract was awarded, which includes the acquisition of the aircraft, the construction of a new training facility at Comox, B.C., as well as the first five years of support and maintenance. The contract also includes options to extend support and maintenance services for an additional 15 years. That would bring the total value of the contract to $4.7-billion.
“I’m very proud as a Canadian working for Airbus,” Simon Jacques, head of Airbus Defence and Space in Canada, said of the selection.
“This aircraft is already a Canadian aircraft — it is 20 per cent Canadian,” he noted in an interview with Esprit de Corps.
Every C295 is powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada engines; pilots and technicians will be trained at a new facility developed by CAE in Comox, B.C.; and the electro-optical systems for the aircraft will be provided by L-3 WESCAM of Burlington, Ontario. In-service support for the life of the program will be provided by AirPro, a joint venture between Airbus Defence and Space and PAL Aerospace of St John’s, Newfoundland.
The federal government noted additional industry partners which will contribute to maintain this capability include Heroux-Devtek to repair landing gear; Hope Aero to repair propellers; Sonovision for technical publications; CLS Lexi-Tech for translation of publications; and Precision Aero to repair component parts on the aircraft.
In 2019, the first aircraft will be delivered and training will have started. The RCAF expects delivery of the final aircraft in 2022.
When the contract is finalized, 185 C295s will have been ordered by 25 countries.
The C295 was selected over the C-27J aircraft from Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica). An official from Leonardo said the firm would not be commenting until it had a briefing from government officials on the project.
Bids for both aircraft were found compliant.
Embraer of Brazil also bid its KC-390 for the Canadian program. Government officials said only two bids were compliant, indicating that the Embraer aircraft was eliminated early in the competition.
Jacques said his firm put together a strong industrial package, a good price and had a proven aircraft that was operational in 24 countries.
“We had a good Canadian aircraft and that was the edge,” he explained to Esprit de Corps. “It was low risk. Our mission system was already integrated with our aircraft. We’ve always [had] strong IRBs (industrial regional benefits).”
Jacques also noted the C295 is also the lower cost aircraft to operate among the competitors. “Overall, the government did it on best value,” he added. The new planes will replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 40-year-old Buffalo aircraft and older model C-130s currently assigned to search and rescue duties.
The project originally envisioned acquiring 17 aircraft, but that was changed to be capability based.
Under that arrangement, aerospace firms submitted in their bids the numbers of aircraft they believed were needed for Canada to handle its search and rescue capability.
The new aircraft will be stationed at the current main operating bases in Comox, British Columbia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Trenton, Ontario; and Greenwood, Nova Scotia.
A request for proposals was issued on March 31, 2015, and potential bidders had until January 11, 2016 to provide their proposals. The evaluation of the bids included ground and flight-testing of the C295 and C-27J at the manufacturers’ facilities.
The Canadian government originally announced its intention in the spring of 2004 to buy a fleet of new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft but the purchase has been on and off ever since.
The Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) Project as it was called was sidelined over the years by more urgent purchases of equipment for Canada’s Afghanistan mission as well as complaints made in the House of Commons by domestic aerospace firms as well as Airbus that the RCAF favoured the C-27J aircraft for the FWSAR plane.
The RCAF strenuously denied any preference for an aircraft.