Jockeying underway for Canadian military search plane contract

A Canadian Forces CC-115 Buffalo aircraft prepares to land.
A Canadian Forces CC-115 Buffalo aircraft prepares to land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

OTTAWA – The jockeying to build Canada’s long-awaited, fixed-wing, search-and-rescue planes has begun with Monday’s deadline for the submission of bids in the estimated $3.1 billion program.

With the ink barely dry on its proposal, Airbus Defence is saying that should its C-295 transport be selected, it will partner with Newfoundland-based Provincial Aerospace, to provide long-term maintenance and support to the fleet.

The program, which has been over a decade in the making, is expected to be first significant military procurement decision by the new Liberal government.

It is a complex bid and a decision is not expected until the summer at the earliest.

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Airbus and its competitors — U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin and Italy-based Alenia Aermacchi — were asked to submit two proposals for consideration in a hybrid procurement intended to deliver not only aircraft, but recommendations on how many planes are needed and where to station them.

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Pablo Molina, head of Airbus Defence in Canada, said it was a challenging process, but one that made easier for his company by the fact that the C-295 has a long service history and the detailed sort of service and reliability data required by the federal government was easily available.

“We are absolutely optimistic about our chances,” Molina said in an interview Monday. “Our analysis says we have the best aircraft and the best solution for Canada in every aspect.”

He declined to discuss how many aircraft — or what kind of basing — the company proposed, saying the federal government deserves an opportunity to review the bids.

Brian Chafe, the CEO of Provincial Aerospace, underlined that the skills and technology required to service Canadian C-295s will reside in Canada to the benefit of the country’s industry and workers.

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The companies submitted prices and aircraft numbers for a fleet that would operate out of four existing main bases across the country — Greenwood, N.S., Trenton, Ont., Winnipeg, and Comox, B.C. — and a separate proposal using only three airfields.

That could present a political problem for the Liberals because dropping even one of those bases from the roster would cause concern in the affected community.

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The bids were originally supposed to be submitted by the end of September but the program was kicked forward into January during the federal election.

Alenia is proposing to offering its C-27J aircraft and Lockheed Martin is interested in offering C-130J transports.

The new planes are meant to replace the air force’s four-decades-old C-115 Buffaloes and older model C-130 Hercules transports currently assigned to search-and-rescue duties.