Ex-Flybe Dash 8s Bound For Firefighting Duties

Dash 8
Credit: De Havilland Aircraft of Canada

Canada’s Conair Group, which describes itself as operating the world’s largest privately owned fixed-wing fleet of firefighting aircraft, has bought 11 De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400 aircraft for conversion to firefighting aircraft. 

The aircraft were previously operated by UK-based regional carrier Flybe, which collapsed as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK’s shores in March 2020.

The aircraft were purchased from Germany’s HEH Hamburger EmissionsHaus, through UK-based Skyworld Aviation. All are currently stored in Europe. Deliveries to Conair will start this month.

Conair said that it decided on the purchase following more than a decade of research and development into the best future solution for aerial firefighting equipment.

Traditionally, firefighting aircraft have been older designs. But in recent years there has been a concerted attempt in North America to induct more modern types into water bombing companies’ inventories. 

Conair said the Dash 8 purchase marked the most significant investment the company had made to date toward developing a fleet of aircraft designed to better fight wildfires in the future. The company aims to create long-term replacements for its fleet of heavy legacy firefighting aircraft, modifying them and designating them Q400ATs. (Conair has kept the “Q” designation for the aircraft; De Havilland Canada has dispensed with the letter, referring to the type as Dash 8-400s.)

“We evaluated 29 aircraft before selecting the Q400 for modification into an aerial firefighting tool,” said Jeff Berry, Conair director of business development. “The unanimous opinion of our flight operations experts was that the Q400 exceeds all the next generation performance criteria within a maneuverable and stable platform. 

“The Q400AT is fast, fuel-efficient and tactically flexible, operating both initial attack as well as sustained support actions. The Q400 is still in production and has strong original equipment manufacturer support from De Havilland Aircraft of Canada, guaranteeing availability of parts and servicing for years,” he said.

Conair has been modifying the De Havilland type into firefighting aircraft since 2005. The Abbotsford, British Columbia-based company has developed two variants: the Q400MR (multirole) and Q400AT (firefighting aircraft). Both are similar in design, with the major modification being the addition of an external 10,000-liter tank for fire retardant. 

Four Q400MR aircraft are in operation in France, with four more on order. The company’s first Q400AT firefighting aircraft was placed in operation in Queensland, Australia, in September 2020. Over the past two years, Conair has purchased six new and 13 used Q400s.

“We look forward to manufacturing the Q400 aircraft into [firefighting aircraft] out of our hangars in Abbotsford, British Columbia, employing a group of specialists during a particularly tough time for the aviation industry,” Conair CEO Barry Marsden said.

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.