Canadian fire-fighting specialist Conair hopes to introduce its first Lockheed Martin C-130 aerial tanker by the start of the 1999 fire season.

The Abbotsford, British Columbia-based company says it has been "frustrated" in its efforts to find suitable C-130s, or civil L-100s, for conversion because delays in the development of Lockheed Martin's next-generation C-130J have forced operators to hold on to their older aircraft.

Conair owns a diversified fleet of 52 fire-fighting aircraft and helicopters and wants to reduce the number of different fixed-wing types it operates, says president Barry Marsden. It operates Douglas DC-6s, Conair Firecats (company-modified Grumman S-2s), Air Tractors and Piper Aerostars, plus some support types.

"We want to focus on a single, heavier, fixed-wing type, the C-130," says Marsden. The company plans to develop its own firefighting modification for the Hercules and wants to be first on the market with a conversion. "It's not a huge market, but there is some demand," he adds.

Conair is looking for either civil-certificated L-100s or military-surplus C-130Es. The latter are operated by the Canadian forces and, according to Marsden, Transport Canada has said it has access to sufficient data to enable it to certificate a C-130E-based aerial tanker for fire-fighting operations in Canada.

"We would like to find the right model [Hercules] at the right price," says Marsden, who predicts that "the dam will break" when Lockheed Martin begins deliveries of the C-130J, due later this year. "That will affect both the availability and price of the older aircraft."

Conair, meanwhile, expects to continue operating the Firecat and the Air Tractor. Marsden predicts that the company will eventually operate the Bombardier CL-215/415 amphibious waterbomber. "We have operated the aircraft before and we hope to get back into it," he says.

Source: Flight International