British Columbia

European fires fuel interest in restarting production of 'revered' Canadian water bomber

The Canadian 'SuperScooper' is a vital firefighting tool in Europe, but the Victoria-based manufacturer says it needs 'an order that we can sink our teeth into' to restart production.

Victoria-based Viking Air took over maintenance, support of Canadair CL-415 firefighting aircraft in 2016

A Canadair CL-415 dumps water on a wildfire in Italy. (Viking Air Limited)

The devastating wildfire season in Europe this year could spur new business for a Victoria-based aircraft company and restart production of a Canadian-made water bomber.

During the devastating 2017 wildfire season, the Canadair CL-415 could be seen overhead, emptying its 6,000-litre water tanks on fires in Portugal, Italy, Croatia and France.

Now David Curtis, the CEO of Viking Air which recently acquired manufacturing rights for the CL-415, said there is renewed interest in replacing some of the aging aircraft which, he said, are "revered" for their firefighting role in Europe.

"The president of France is publicly encouraging the European Union to get together and assemble an order that we can sink our teeth into and restart the production line," said Curtis, who returned from meetings in Europe last week. 

"If their fleets need to be renewed and some of the airplanes are getting a little elderly, we would need some kind of minimum order, in order to restart the production line," Curtis told On the Island guest host Khalil Akhtar.

Viking acquired the rights from Bombardier Inc. in 2016 to build, support and service the existing fleet of about 170 CL-415s which have been in use since the mid-1990s in 11 countries.

Bombardier stopped production in 2015 and laid off 33 workers at its North Bay plant in Ontario, blaming a lack of orders for the amphibious aircraft which is known in the U.S. as the SuperScooper 415.

"These aircraft are critical infrastructure firefighting assets," Curtis said. "I can tell you when we first arrived as the new OEM (original equipment manufacturer), there was a lot of nervousness in the fleet." 

He said despite problems with outdated equipment and supply-line delays, the company was able to ensure parts and technical and engineering support for the aircraft in the field.

"This isn't meant as a critique of Bombardier but we're a smaller company, we're able to be a little bit more nimble," Curtis said.

When Viking acquired the rights to the CL-415 in 2016 it also announced newly acquired and specially repurposed 50,000 square foot facility in Calgary, and the hiring of 40 new staff. 

The CL-415 business follows Viking Air's acquisition of rights in 2006 to the Twin Otter which had ended production in 1988. 

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story included a picture of an earlier model aircraft, not a CL-415 water bomber. It has been removed.
    Oct 31, 2017 11:49 AM PT

now