N.W.T. gov't spends $26M on 8 new Fireboss water bombers

The Government of the Northwest Territories is paying $26 million for a new fleet of eight water bombers. It's the first time the GNWT has bought new planes for the purpose since it inherited the federal government's Canadair C-215s, which were introduced in 1969.

Makes more sense to buy new aircraft than upgrade old fleet, says Minister Wally Schumann

An Air Tractor 802 Fireboss on display at the Paris Air Show in 2009. The N.W.T. government has ordered eight of the brand new aircraft, which are being built in Texas, to replace its aging water bomber fleet. (Tangopaso/Wikimedia Commons)

Newly-elected Northwest Territories MLAs are following through with plans to spend about $26 million for eight new water bombers. 

This is the first time the territorial government has bought new water bombers, which are used to fight fires. It inherited the current fleet of Canadair C-215s, which were introduced in 1969, from the federal government for $1.

The minister of environment and natural resources, Wally Schumann, says it makes more sense to buy the new Air Tractor 802 Fireboss aircraft than to upgrade the old fleet.

"I think the cost of doing that, from everything I've seen, would have been four times or five times the cost of purchasing these new Firebosses," he said.

The government plans to issue a request for proposals this spring for the operation and maintenance of the fleet.

It could have asked contractors to provide a fleet of aircraft as well as operate and maintain them, but Schumann says many northern companies would not have been able to bid on it.

"The biggest benefit of us, the GNWT, owning a fleet of aircraft is the larger chance of Northern aviation companies to participate in the operation of the tanker based fleet," Schumann said. 

In the past, the 10-year contract has typically been worth about $25 million.

Schumann said the government hired a fairness commissioner and a technical team to put together the RFP.

The new aircraft are much smaller than the ones they're replacing, and they require only one pilot instead of two. They can also land on smaller lakes, closer to the fires they're fighting.

The N.W.T.'s worst fire season on record was in 2014 — there were 385 wildland fires, which burned 3.4 million hectares of land. The fires were fought at a cost of $56.1 million.

Last summer was the second-worst. 

The new Air Tractor 802 Fireboss aircraft, which are built in Texas, are on track to be delivered in the spring of 2017.


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