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Winnipeg-based Rockwell Collins (formerly B/E Aerospace) has been awarded a supplemental type certificate (STC) by Transport Canada for a cargo freighter interior conversion, a project led by Air Inuit as the first operator of this solution. The STC, awarded on June 16, uniquely approves conversion of the Bombardier Dash 8-300 interior from passenger to cargo format, using a specially designed pre-engineered “kit.”
The first retrofit has just been completed by Rockwell Collins and Air Inuit at the regional airline’s Montreal facility. The STC completes phase one of a two-phase project, with the second incorporating the development and installation of an oversize cargo door. On completion, which is targeted for the end of the year, the entrance will measure nine feet wide by about six feet high, and will optimize access to the aft of the aircraft.
“We provide a lifeline in terms of materials, perishables, machinery for mining and construction, to 14 different Inuit regions. We needed an aircraft that could operate efficiently at very basic airports, perform on short gravel runways, and handle oversized cargo, including new format side-by-side seating quad vehicles, which are big. We also wanted to establish increased fleet commonality,” said Christian Busch, vice-president operations and COO, Air Inuit.
Rockwell Collins had to consider several issues including power management, cargo fire events and durability throughout development.
“Most remote airports aren’t equipped with ground power units and many of the Dash 8 operators will save weight by removing the auxiliary power unit, which forces crew and pilots to rely on the same batteries to power the lights and start the aircraft. To minimize power consumption, we chose LED strip lights linked to a timer switch that ensures the batteries cannot be drained.”
For the same reasons, the cargo door will operate on a powerless, manual system. “It works like an oversized hatchback that uses six springs for easy opening and closing and, combined with the lighting system, saves valuable power,” said David Vanderzwaag, director of sales and programs for Rockwell Collins.
The simple, but intelligent, approach extends into the smoke detection and ventilation control system, too. Smoke detectors are recessed into the ceiling for ease of loading but a unique design still allows them to detect smoke within one minute of a fire starting. The ventilation control system is then activated by the pilots to starve the fire and prevent smoke from reaching the cockpit, giving the crew time to manage an emergency landing.
“We placed significant emphasis on development and testing of the smoke detection and ventilation control system to ensure rapid and effective operation in the event of a fire. It was one of the more complex aspects of the modification but we are very happy with the end result,” added Vanderzwaag.
Cargo loading has also been carefully deliberated. Bulk loads of boxes can be positioned within six separate zones in the fuselage, and are kept secure by vertical cargo nets. A pallet system is also available as a quick-change option, utilizing “cookie” sheets and an ANCRA roller system that allows loads to be pushed into place. For hauling large items, seat tracks running the length of the cabin allow articles to be strapped down safely. When full, the payload will weigh in around 13,500 pounds.
On entry into service, the aircraft will improve operating costs when it replaces Air Inuit’s last Hawker Siddeley HS 748. Training, maintenance and recurrent costs will be significantly reduced and fuel costs will go down by around 30 per cent. It is anticipated the newly converted freighter will enter regular service by the end of December this year. Busch said the airline also intends to modify its two existing Dash 8-300 cargo freighters with the large doors, to support growing cargo demand.
The project also represents a strong commercial arrangement between three Canadian companies. “We really benefitted from working closely with Rockwell Collins and Bombardier to fulfil our goal. It’s introduced a new product to the global cargo market, given the Dash 8-300 a new lease on life, and we are proud that Air Inuit initiated this,” said Busch.
Once completed the Dash 8-300 cargo configuration will represent the first of its kind anywhere in the world.
Vanderzwaag said, “We worked really hard to develop a modification solution that can be easily used by other operators. We are already talking to some Canadian operators, will be visiting Africa in July, and see potential in the Asia Pacific island nations.”
With this, and the combi passenger-cargo configuration Rockwell Collins is now working on, Vanderzwaag is also looking forward to seeing how it’s received by the rest of the world.