Former Flybe Dash 8 Makes Its Debut As A Water Bomber

Just over a year ago, former UK regional airline Flybe sadly ceased operations. The carrier had been a prominent operator of the de Havilland Dash 8 turboprop family, and even used to be Europe’s largest operator of the type. The airline’s closure left a significant number of these aircraft available for new leases of life. One of these recently made a spectacular return to service as none other than a water bomber!

Flybe Dash 8
G-KKEV in its original Flybe livery back in 2008. Photo: Björn via Flickr

A firefighting Dash 8

Earlier this week, images emerged on social media of a former Flybe Dash8-Q400 turboprop making a splash near Abbotsford, Canada. The aircraft is one of 11 of the former UK regional airline’s Dash 8s to have recently been acquired by aerial firefighting specialists Conair. This group has already been converting such turboprops since 2005.

As seen in the tweet above, most of the plane’s Flybe paint scheme has remained intact after the conversion. The conversion has seen it fitted with a belly tank, from which it can ‘bomb’ water onto fires on the ground. These will likely be an increasingly common occurrence as the Northern Hemisphere’s hotter summer months come around.

Aerial Firefighting Map
A cartographic depiction of one of the aircraft’s recent missions. Image:

12 years at Flybe

Before its conversion to an aerial firefighting aircraft, or ‘water bomber,’ C-FFQG spent 12 years in a far more orthodox passenger-carrying role for Flybe. According to ch-aviation, the aircraft arrived at the UK regional airline registered as G-KKEV in April 2008.

As was typical for Flybe’s Dash 8-Q400s, G-KKEV had an all-economy 78-seat configuration. Each of these seats had an average pitch of 30 inches. From April 2008 to December 2015, the aircraft sported a commemorative decal of footballer Kevin Keegan.

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Flybe Dash 8
The aircraft was named after English football player and manager Kevin Keegan between 2008 and 2015. Photo: Mark Harkin via Flickr

When Flybe collapsed, G-KKEV was withdrawn and stored in Manchester from March to October 2020. It then came into the ownership of German lessor HEH Aviation, which stored it in Weeze, Germany and Maastricht, Netherlands before its transfer to Canada.

Conair’s other conversions

G-KKEV arrived at Conair’s Abbotsford headquarters on February 21st this year, and acquired its new Canadian registration on March 8th. This was ideal timing for Conair, with its Director of Programs, Kristina Marsden, telling Air Attack Magazine that:

It was a huge priority for us to get one here and into conversion as soon as possible to support the fire season. (…) Exporting the aircraft and dealing with different governments in terms of civil aviation authorities made the entire evolution extra complicated.”

Conair Firefighting Avro RJ85
Conair has also converted jet aircraft, such as this Avro RJ85, for use in the domain of aerial firefighting.  Photo: Conair

Of course, the Dash 8 isn’t the only converted aircraft that Conair uses in its aerial firefighting missions. As seen in the image above, it has also deployed the four-engine jet-powered Avro RJ85 in this field, and ch-aviation states that it has a total of three of these.

The remainder of Conair’s fleet consists of Cessna Caravan C208Bs, Turbo Commander TC-690As, Viking CL215Ts, Air Tractor AT802 Amphibs, and even nine Convair 580 turboprops. With decades of history behind it, and an innovative approach to its fleet development, Conair will surely remain a key name in aerial firefighting for many years to come.

What do you make of this new lease of life for the ex-Flybe Dash 8? Do you know of any other similar conversions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!