Viking Aircraft, which currently produces the Twin Otter, has acquired the type certificate and production rights to the CL-415 Water-Bomber from Bombardier, as well as the aftermarket rights and type certificates for the earlier CL-215 and CL-215T water-bombers. This is an ideal fit for Viking, which earlier acquired the rights for multiple de Havilland models from Bombardier, ranging from the DH-1 Chipmunk to the DH-7 STOL commuter aircraft.
Currently, Viking produces the Twin Otter 400 and has delivered more than 100 aircraft to 29 countries since launching that model in 2007. Can it do the same with the water-bomber?
There is certainly a need for water-bombers, as forest fires continue to erupt annually in North America during the summer, and Australia during their summer. The advantage of the water-bomber is that it can quickly re-load by “scooping” water from a river or lake, mix that water with fire fighting chemicals in the air, and return for multiple drops on a fire each hour.
While there are plenty of fires, in the US, the government has been the primary impediment to an effective fleet of aircraft to quickly extinguish them. Governmental agencies, like the forest service, cannot sign long-term leases, as they are restricted by varying annual budgets by Congress. As a result, leasing companies are reluctant to enter into long-term leases that could be easily broken.
But alternatives that make sense, from a risk-management perspective, do exist. Insurers, for example, typically lose hundreds of millions (often billions) of dollars from major fires. The amount of those losses could easily cover a fleet of water bombers that could be quickly deployed at the outset of a fire and extinguish it before it gets out of control. A fleet of two dozen CL-415s, strategically located to respond to outbreaks (perhaps four units in six regions located around the west) could quench fires before they grow, resulting in much lower losses.
While this alternative would pay for itself, it would require coordination among insurance companies to reduce risk, as well as coordination with existing forest service operators and regulators. But purpose-built water-bombers certainly outperform aging passenger and cargo aircraft converted into fire-fighting aircraft that need to land at an airport and be refilled from the ground, much less efficient that the “super scooper.”
Viking has been successful in bringing the twin-otter back to the market, and should be able to do the same with the unique CL-415. We wish them luck, as this aircraft has unique capabilities that should be a part of a better solution to forest fire control.