Manitoba Government privatises aerial firefighting fleet

The Government of Manitoba has contracted with Babcock Canada to provide services for the suppression of wildfires, including the use of water bombers, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler has announced. The transaction is the result of a competitive RFP process. “Our government is committed to protecting Manitobans from wildfires and that’s what this agreement delivers,” said Schuler. “It will ensure faster response times, enhanced safety and a superior aircraft maintenance program. It will make Manitoba’s wildfire suppression system even better.”

The Manitoba government will retain ownership of its seven active water bombers, consisting of three CL215 and four CL415s delivered between 2010 and 2012. Fleet deployment will remain under the direction of Manitoba Wildfire Program staff, which includes the potential for deployment outside the province with the government’s consent and direction. Through long-term and existing mutual assistance agreements, neighbouring jurisdictions have access to Manitoba’s water bombers, pending availability and approval from the Manitoba Wildfire Program. In turn, Manitoba has access to other aircraft for fire-suppression emergencies. The minister noted the majority of Canadian provinces use private carriers for all wildfire suppression services. Manitoba’s Wildfire Program currently uses private carriers for some bird-dog services, helicopters and crew transportation services.

British-based Babcock has over 30 years of fixed and rotary wing aerial firefighting experience, including the operation and maintenance of 19 CL415 firefighting aircraft for the Italian Government’s Dipartimento Protezione Civile. In Manitoba, Babcock will work in partnership with Air Spray, an experienced provider of fire-suppression services with long-term contracts in both Canada and the US. The 10-year contract is worth CAD$170 million and will begin in April 2019. Company representatives will be meeting with affected government employees to discuss employment opportunities under the new operating structure.

Babcock will manage, maintain and operate Manitoba’s fleet of seven firefighting Canadair water-bomber amphibious aircraft, supported by three Babcock Twin Commander aircraft. The agreement is Babcock’s entry to the North American aerial emergency services market, which they believe to have an addressable market for aerial firefighting of around US$1.8 billion. 80% of this relates to the USA, which is accessible to companies operating in Canada, so this Manitoba contract could provide a springboard to more such work. Further opportunities are being considered in aerial emergency medical service opportunities in Canada.

Manitoba is also working through an RFP process for both general transportation air services and for air ambulance services.

Jeremy Parkin