Saskatchewan renews aerial firefighting fleet with purchase of 4 Dash 8s converted by Conair

By Dayna Fedy-MacDonald | April 29, 2024

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 30 seconds.

Saskatchewan Dash 8-400 airtanker. Conair Aerial Firefighting Photo

With its current fleet of aerial firefighting aircraft approaching their end of life, Saskatchewan has purchased four land-based airtankers that will allow the province to continue to manage wildfires well into the future.

According to a news release, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) has purchased four De Havilland Canada-built Dash 8-400 aircraft, which are to be converted into airtankers by B.C.-based Conair Aerial Firefighting — an acquisition worth approximately $187.06 million. The four new Dash 8 airtankers will replace the province’s current fleet of four Convair 580s, which the SPSA says will “approach the end of their useful lifespan in 2027.”

The first of the four airtankers is expected to arrive in late summer of 2025, with the remaining aircraft set to arrive by the end of 2027.

Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Paul Merriman said the province “relies on land-based airtanker aircraft as part of its approach to managing wildfires. These aircraft are used in instances where waterbombers may not be able to access lakes to fill up their tanks.” 

Conair Image

Two of the Dash 8s are to be converted into dedicated airtankers, known as the Dash 8-Q400AT, while the remaining two will be converted into multi-role aircraft that can be used to fight fires as well as be reconfigured for other operations like air evacuations, patient transport, cargo hauling, etc. The latter type is defined by Conair as the Dash 8-Q400MRE.

The Dash 8-Q400AT is equipped with Conair’s proprietary Retardant Delivery System – an external tank with a 10,000-litre capacity, capable of dropping retardant, water, or foam/gel. The Q400MRE has a similar, but slightly reduced, tank capacity of 9,274 litres.

In addition to the large capacity, SPSA says both aircraft models have increased efficiency and “produce 30 per cent less emissions than a similar sized airtanker.”

Conair Aerial Firefighting’s president and CEO Matt Bradley said he believes “Saskatchewan leads [Canada] in preparing for future disasters with their order for four modern emergency response aircraft. They are the first province to invest in the safety and security of their citizens with a purchase of the multi role airtankers, built by Canadians for Canadians. Saskatchewan is . . . enhancing their fleet with aircraft designed to offer first in, last out capability.” 

SPSA has confirmed that the federal government is contributing $16.29 million towards the aircraft acquisition through Natural Resources Canada’s Fighting and Managing Wildfires in a Changing Climate Program.  

“These planes will replace the SPSA’s aging land-based airtanker fleet with a modern, supportable aircraft with an anticipated useful life of 25 years,” said Minister Merriman. “They will also support the SPSA’s ability to provide an operational response to more emergencies and public safety events beyond wildfires.”

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