News today suggests the Bombardier Q400 might see a new role. This role has been discussed before, as far back as 2009.
In the interim period, technologies have evolved. The clever devices added to UAVs like sensors and cameras mean that these can now also be added to an airframe like the Q400. Bombardier has been quietly developing the additional capabilities of its turboprops aircraft for some time.
The difficulty for many governments is juggling the needs of budget constraints with manifest SAR and other maritime needs. There are some useful examples worth pointing out. Let’s look at one obvious issue – illegal fishing. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that approximately 85% of the world’s fish stocks are either over-exploited or exploited to their maximum.
Illegal Fishing – Many African nations suffer from illegal fishing. African nations typically do not have the naval and maritime assets to protect their coastal economic zones. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), describes Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated or IUU fishing as “fishing activities which are illegal, unreported or unregulated”. The convention clarifies how fishing can be illegal, unreported and unregulated and maintained that IUU fishing is a crime and authorizes sanctions against any country or company that engages in the act – the basis for deterring and preventing IUU fishing by means of international law. Take a look at this 2011 report on the matter. Here’s a report from 2014.
The primary attraction of using an aircraft like the Q400 is cost. A Q400 kitted out for maritime patrol is estimated to provide 80% of the capabilities of Boeing’s P-8 maritime patrol aircraft but at a third of the acquisition and operating cost. That is a really attractive set of numbers. We think there are numerous nations that should consider this option. One could start with every African nation with a coastline. Take a look at this sorry tale as an example.
The cost benefit tradeoff looks promising. Deploying a turboprop-based maritime patrol aircraft is almost certainly going to pay for itself by enabling nations to identify illegal fishing vessels and then enforce legal process via UNCLOS.