Progress continues in Canada’s lengthy quest to build a new fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) aircraft, with the country confirming that six defence contractors have been selected to bid for the job.

Those companies are Airbus Defence & Space, Alenia Aermacchi, a Bell Helicopter/Boeing partnership, Embraer, Lockheed Martin and Viking Air.

Airbus, which will bid its C295, tells Flightglobal that industry expects Canadian authorities to release a request for proposal (RFP) in the next few months. “It’s been a long lead up,” the company says. “Everyone is ready to go as soon as [the RFP] comes up.”

Canada’s National Search and Rescue Secretariat, established in 2012 to oversee the project, did not immediately respond to a request for more information, but the office has said an RFP will be released in “early 2014”.

Viking Air Buffalo

Royal Canadian Air Force de Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo

The FWSAR programme seeks to replace Canada’s fleet of de Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalos and Lockheed CC-130s, which are operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Canada had six Buffalos and 14 CC-130s providing search and rescue in 2013, according a government report dated last December.

Airbus says its C295 will have "substantial Canadian content", including Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127G turboprop engines. The C295 is operated by a number of countries including Finland, where it has proven itself in a cold climate, it adds.

Lockheed says its C-130J “would be the best solution for Canada’s evolving search and rescue requirements". "C-130s have done all of the heavy lifting tasks in Canada's demanding search and rescue regions and [we] believe that Canada should only acquire a solution that is at least equal or better than the current capability,” the company says.

However, Lockheed has not made a “bid decision” because “a number of smaller, less capable aircraft” can meet the programme’s requirements, it says. Lockheed will decide how to proceed after reviewing weighted requirements in the final RFP, says the company.

Embraer says its new KC-390 "represents the most up-to-date and capable solution to respond to the very demanding Canadian requirements". The KC-390 is scheduled to fly for the first time later this year and to enter service in 2016. The aircraft will have International Aero Engines V2500 powerplants and is sized between a C-130J and an Airbus A400M.

Bell/Boeing says its V-22 tiltrotor has the "right combination of versatility and efficiency" for the job, noting the aircraft has the speed and range of a fixed-wing turboprop plus the ability to hover and make vertical landings and take-offs.

"Bell/Boeing will evaluate the requirements and limitations of the RFP and will respond prudently," the company says.

Other competitors did not immediately comment, but Alenia Aermacchi’s website says its C-27J Spartan “is the most capable, cost-effective and uncompromising search and rescue aircraft available. No aircraft is better suited to need Canada’s needs,” it claims.

Viking is expected to bid a new version of its venerable Buffalo.

The FWSAR project kicked off in mid-2009, when Canada held an industry day with prospective bidders. That was followed by another industry day two years later.

Canada requested in May 2013 that interested bidders submit estimated pricing, and in August issued a draft request for proposal.