SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – France’s civil defence agency Sécurité Civile needs to replace its nine long-serving Conair Turbo Firecat fire bombers and might even consider new Bombardier CL-415 Superscoopers, which “paused” production in 2015.
The 58-years-old Firecats were converted from Grumman S-2 Trackers and their type certificate expires in 2020.
Sécurité Civile aerial division chief Victor Devouge says the government intends to retire the twin-engine type between 2018 and 2022 as they reach the end of their structural life limit of 25,000 flight hours, which will require a two-year type certification extension.
In its place, France wants an aircraft that delivers greater volumes of water, "minimises" acquisition and operating costs, and is multirole.
An international call for tenders for a replacement wildfire fighting capability will be published “in the coming weeks”. A contract will be awarded in 2017 for aircraft delivery in 2018, says Devouge, speaking at the Aerial Firefighting International conventional in Sacramento, California this week.
France's firefighting service operates a dozen Superscooper amphibians, and Devouge expressed disappointment that the 415 has paused production due to a lack of orders. The last three aircraft, which can scoop up 6140L (1,621GL) in 12sec, were delivered to Aero-Flite.
While noting that he cannot comment on the Canadian aerospace manufacturer’s decision to close the fixed-wing amphibian’s completion facility in North Bay, Ontario, he notes that “it’s a concern for the countries that operate these fleets”. It might be worthwhile reopening the line if there is a sufficient number of new orders, he says.
There was some discussion about France coordinating any potential 415 order with other prospective operators, if the 415 was indeed the preferred choice to replace the Tracker. One business model, it was noted, could be a cost and time-sharing arrangement with nations in the southern hemisphere.
Alternatives could be the Q400MR Airtanker, since France already operates two examples, or perhaps even Avro RJ85AT tanker.
Devouge says the aerial firefighting branch intends to maintain a mixed fleet of “scoopers and non-amphibious aircraft. It is also looking to incorporate drones for wildfire tracking.
Looking ahead to 2017, the government is also preparing to move its aerial firefighting fleets from the air base at Marseille in France's southeast to Nîmes-Garons, as the centre of extreme fires outbreaks trends westward.