When it came time to look toward replacing their legacy fixed-wing fleet of airtankers with a new, advanced aircraft type, one criterion considered was an aircraft that produced less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while offering improved firefighting effectiveness. Conair selected De Havilland’s Dash 8-400 for airtanker conversion as it offered a significantly reduced environmental footprint while providing a large Type II Next Generation tank compared against Type I aircraft.
The Dash 8-400 provided the benefits of a lighter but robust frame, with composite propulsion, providing tactical agility and consistent drop speeds in steep, rugged and diverse terrain, as well as effective aerodynamics and efficient lift systems, with powerful engines – giving it the ability to respond faster than most jets when travelling less than 480 kms (300 miles), an effective range when responding to fires.
In addition, the aircraft’s ability to land at most 5,000-foot runways, compared to longer runway requirements for larger aircraft, means the airtanker is more versatile, capable of actioning out of a larger number of airport bases, often situated closer to wildfires, further reducing flight time and fuel consumption while providing fast initial attack services that contribute to controlling wildfire spread.
Examining environmental performance of the airtanker
To quantify the environmental performance of the airtanker variant of the Dash 8-400, the Q400AT, Conair commissioned JPOM Canada to examine the CO2 emissions of the aircraft against other fixed-wing land-based airtankers using a typical wildfire as an example. The scenario was based on a fire requiring 60,000 litres of retardant, situated 110km from an airbase. Findings proved that the Q400 airtanker produced significantly less CO2 than its counterparts and, when calculated over an average fire season, showed up to a 429-per-cent improvement in emission output over very large airtankers and more than a two-fold improvement over aircraft of similar tank size.
The study also evaluated the quantity of retardant dropped compared to fuel burned in order to gauge the aircraft’s overall efficiency and value. The Q400AT performed significantly better for fuel efficiency than all other aircraft types, dropping 15.9 litres or US gallons of retardant on a wildfire for every litre or US gallon of fuel burned, more than double the retardant delivered for fuel burned on most Type I and VLAT airtankers.
Addressing climate change requires a global effort, with all stakeholders doing their part to curb emissions. Conair is making their own strides to move into the future with a more sustainable aerial firefighting operation, supporting government customers, firefighters, and communities by protecting the world from wildfires in the most environmentally responsible ways possible.