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May 25, 2024
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Like the US, Canada’s head of state aircraft is aging.  Unlike the US version, the Canadian one is based on a niche model that has a small installed fleet.  While the US Boeing 747 can be supported by either Boeing or the USAF, the Canadian Forces Airbus A310 does not have a local OEM to provide confidential support for the unique capabilities required in a head of state aircraft.

There is an additional complication, the Canadian government A310 fleet consists of five aircraft.  They are all ex-airliners and one has been modified to accommodate VVIP requirements and four others are for military purposes, of which two can perform in-flight refueling.

It should be clear to the decision makers that the replacement must be broken into two quite different aircraft.  VVIP aircraft are specific to their usage.  Mlitary aircraft and especially tankers are also specific use equipment.  But because tankers are much larger, they tend to be more multi-purpose than a VVIP aircraft. For example an A330 MRTT is doing work as an airliner at present.  The Airbus MRTT and the Boeing KC-46 do more than act as tankers because they have the space to do other tasks.

Canada is in a far better position looking at choices now than they were when the A310s were first bought.  For a VVIP Canada has a superb local product in the CS300 that has the requisite range (in VVIP configuration). It is also less likely to break down.  Moreover, buying as Canadian product sends all the right political signals.  In addition, the CS300, being state of the art, lends itself far better to the needs of in-flight communications than the aging A310 ever did.

For tanker duties, the KC-46 should be a shoo-in.  It is clearly the option to refuel the CF-16s and, perhaps one day, the F-35.  But the KC-46 is from Boeing and that has certain limits in Canada at present. So, what is plan B?  Airbus has the A330 MRTT which is larger than the KC-46.  And Airbus, which will soon acquire majority interest in the C Series, is now a major player in the Montréal aerospace cluster.

The article referenced suggests Canada cannot make selection about the tanker until it is clear where the fighter selection is going.  That is an odd position because the fighter selection is straightforward and either tanker option would work.

Regarding the VVIP selection, this is no hard decision.  The tradeoffs are straightforward.  Canada could acquire something like an A340-500 in the market, but that is a very large aircraft that may be too much. If the A310 is already nicknamed the “Flying Taj Mahal” the an A340-500 would certainly keep that moniker. Nobody in the political arena in Canada would fault a CS300 selection. Or even a small fleet of them.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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