Canada’s Conair Purchases 11 Q400s For Firefighting Missions

Canadian aerial firefighting company Conair is purchasing 11 Bombardier-built Dash 8 Q400 turboprops for conversion into aerial firefighting tankers. The acquisition was made public on January 14th, 2021. These planes will see quite a significant transition from their historical role as all 11 aircraft previously flew for collapsed regional UK airline, Flybe.

Dash 8 Q400 tanker
Conair has already proven that converting a Dash 8 into an aerial firefighter can be successful. The company has been converting Dash 8 Q400s into tankers since 2005. Photo: Conair

Former Flybe commuter aircraft

According to Skies Magazine, all 11 of the Q400 aircraft have been purchased from HEH Hamburger EmissionsHaus, through marketing firm Skyworld Aviation, which specializes in regional aircraft sales and leases.

Interestingly, all 11 aircraft were originally Flybe commuter planes based in Europe. Data from shows that the aircraft are between 11.7 and 13.5 years old. Some of these were supposed to go on to fly with Flybe successor-airline, Virgin Connect. However, the events of 2020 had dashed those plans. The planes will be delivered to Conair starting this month.

Dash 8 Flybe
All 11 aircraft had flown the majority of their service lives with UK regional airline Flybe. Photo: via Wikimedia Commons

Conair says that it evaluated 29 aircraft before selecting the Q400 for modification. In fact, the decision was unanimous among the company’s flight operations experts. The company calls the Q400AT “fast, fuel-efficient, and tactically flexible.”

A key factor in selecting this aircraft was that it remains in production and has strong Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) support from De Havilland Aircraft of Canada, thus “guaranteeing availability of parts and servicing for years.” Bombardier sold the program to De Havilland Aircraft of Canada in 2019.

“We look forward to manufacturing the Q400 aircraft into airtankers out of our hangars in Abbotsford, British Columbia, employing a group of specialists during a particularly tough time for the aviation industry. It makes us proud that this Canadian-made, De Havilland Canada airframe, powered with Canadian-made Pratt & Whitney engines, will be modified by our team in Canada, and then put into operation around the world to help our partners suppress wildfires for what could be decades.” – Barry Marsden, CEO, Conair, as per a press release shared by Skies.

Conversion to firefighting air tankers

According to Conair, this tank will have a maximum capacity of 10,000 liters (2,642 US gallons). Additionally, the tank that will be installed is external.

Q400 conair tanker
Conair will take 11 Dash 8s in this order, adding to their existing fleet of two. Photo: Conair

Once the conversion is completed, the aircraft will be designated as either Q400MR or Q400AT. AT stands for ‘air tanker’ while MR denotes a multi-role capability. This will see the Q400MR be capable of a quick reconfiguration for use in air tanker, cargo, passenger, combi-transport, or medical evacuation missions.

“The purchase marks the most significant investment Conair has made to date towards developing a fleet of Next Generation aircraft designed to better fight wildfires for years to come,” – via the press release.

Below are the specifications for the converted tanker:

  • Maximum Take-Off Weight: 30,482 kgs. (67,200 lbs)
  • Tank Capacity: Type 2, 10,000 litres (2,642 US gallons)
  • Normal En-route Speed: 370 knots (KTAS at 18,000 feet)
  • Endurance: Three hours (plus reserves)
  • Crew: Two pilots
  • Runway: 1400 m / 5000 ft. // PLR 8 with the ability to land loaded

According to Conair’s website, the company safely flies 8,000 to 12,000 aerial firefighting flight hours with over 70 aircraft each year. The outfit has operations in Canada, the USA, France, and Australia. In fact, Conair France has supported France’s Sécurité Civile for over 30 years.

What do you think of Conair’s decision to purchase and convert former Flybe Dash 8 Q400s? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.