Canada could soon have new a world-beating aircraft production line, resurrecting a plane that was first produced in the late 1960s.
The head of Longview Aviation Capital says a final decision on the re-start of production of an updated water bomber, designated the CL-515, should happen ‘within months.’ David Curtis made the comment at the Aerospace, Defence and Security Expo in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
It would be the third major aircraft production line taken on by Longview, which also owns production of the Twin Otter on Vancouver Island and Calgary, and the De Havilland Dash8-400 in Toronto.
“We are deep into planning a production restart for the aircraft,” said Curtis. A high-level team at Longview’s head office is putting the final touches on production plans, including staffing levels, space requirements, supply chains, and market estimates.
The newly-branded CL-515 would be an updated version of an aircraft design first certified in the 1960s.
“The multi-mission Canadair 515 First Responder addresses obsolescence issues associated with the older CL-415 airframe and systems while improving maintainability through its use of modernized materials and airframe systems enhancements,” says Viking on its website. “The 515 also features an evolution of the maintenance program, increased water tank capacity, and higher landing weights.”
Manufacturing of the CL-415 ended in 2015, after an estimated 125 airframes were sold around the world.
The CL-515 would be a ‘skimmer’ aircraft, designed to pick up water in as little as 14 seconds by skimming water from a lake without landing, and drop it on nearby fires. Curtis estimates there are between 65 and 70 skimmer aircraft in Europe, a similar number in Canada, but only two in the United States.
“So it’s a huge opportunity for us to expose the U.S. forest service and those folks to an incredible aerial firefighting platform,” he said. The company announced the sale of six aircraft to Indonesia at the Paris Air Show in June.
The 515 could also be configured for crop spraying or disaster or medical evacuations.
Longview has quintupled in size in the past 18 months, with revenues jumping from $350 million last year, to more than $1.5 billion this year as the company took on production of the De Havilland Dash 8-400 regional turboprop, which it bought from Bombardier. The company delivered the 600th production -400 this year to Ethiopian Airlines.
“From my point of view,” said Curtis, “the board wanted us to take a bit of a deep breath after the acquisition of the De Havilland programme. And as we absorb that business and understand it, to get a little bit of space between that transaction and our next programme, which is going to be the launch of the 515.”
The 515 will have an updated avionics suite, including ADS-B satellite tracking. It would be able to drop up to 690,000 litres of water a day on nearby forest fires. The company says that would give the 515, “The lowest overall cost per litre of any firefighting aircraft.”
Curtis said the company will have to hire 900 employees, secure 400,000 square feet of production space (more than 37,000 square metres), establish a supply chain, and build a customer base beyond Indonesia to make production a reality.
“I can tell you it’s incredibly more complex than ‘just’ acquiring the Dash-8 programme,” said Curtis.
Curtis estimates a final decision whether to launch production will be made within three to five months.