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December 5, 2023
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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.

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7 thoughts on “Viking Acquires Rights to CL-415 Water-Bomber from Bombardier

  1. Interesting point of view. But I want to add my 2 cents here.

    Looking at the world of aviation for the last 40 years or so, I came to the conclusion that aircraft design always end reflecting, at least in part, the origins of their designers (even though said designers will always claim that they design planes for the world market yada yada yada). Boeing planes are slightly best adapted to the North American market (not a lot of 757 in Europe), Airbus to the Eurasian market (A380 in North America anyone???)

    Same could be said of the CL-215 / CL-415. This plane works well in Canada, even better in its province of origin, Quebec. Why?

    The effeciency of the CL-415 comes largely from high availability and close proximity of easy to flyin in, large and calm bodies of water. And where do you find this type of terrain more than anywhere else in the world? Yep, in Canada, mostly in Quebec. Possibly in Russia too, but the Russians have developed their own brand of water bombers.

    Anywhere else in the world, but in Canada and Russia, access to lakes large enough for a CL-415 to scoop water from is more problematic. In some areas it is possible (like in the northwest of the USA, and even there I’m not too sure, because of the mountains). Some areas in California. But the persistent drought in California reduces the availability of large enough lakes with each passing summer. Same is true of Europe, mainly around the Mediterranean sea, and of Australia.

    In these areas, deprived of enough large lakes, traditionnal water bombers, which have to land, and helicopters, which can “suck-up” water from smaller lakes, even backyard pools (!), are more efficient than the CL-415.

  2. I agree with the logic behind the origin of the CL-415/215 design coming from a lake-filled nation, but not with the conclusion. In reality these water-bombers are used in large numbers in nations at risk with or without multiple lakes except for Australia and the USA. Puzzling since they can be used efficiently there (Canadian CL-415’s are borrowed with great regularity by California when the need is intense) since both, quite apart from natural lakes and river courses all have large numbers of dams.

    It seems that the problem is the high initial cost of purchase which has led to both nations instead using immensely varied numbers of older, even utterly obsolete air frames. I suspect it may have something to do with costing practices – CL-415’s are common where nations fund their own (and highly efficient) permanent services, rare where the practice is to put air firefighting out to tender with the inevitable result that short term low costs apply.

  3. CL-415 can scoop water with multiple short runs…I don’t think it’s capabilities are limiting its use in the USA.

  4. CL-215 and CL-415 can scoop water from the ocean as well hence their use in southern France, Greece, Croatia, where they typically scoop from the Mediteranean. They are not restricted to lakes. In regards to the size of the lake, you should have a look on youtube for numerous examples of CL-415 dropping from the sky, scooping their load of water and climbing back within 2000 feet. I don’t refer to this as a ‘large body of water’.

    Source http://www.bombardier.com/aerospace/amphibious-aircraft/faq.html

  5. I remember a few years back there was talk of someone assembling a fleet of water bombers that would travel the globe with the seasons (i.e. N.America in May-Sept and Australia in Oct-March).

    Dunno what ever came of it though.

  6. I believe that I did not express myself as well as I should have. I am not questionning the CL-415 capability to use relatively small lakes or even the ocean. I am just saying that for the CL-415 to be really efficient, these sources of water have to be relatively close to the fire that it is trying to put out. If the CL-415 has to travel 100 miles or so to scoop up some water, it loses its advantage over traditional water bombers or even a helicopter. In Canada, furthermore in Quebec, the CL-415 can count on an available lake every 25miles or so, even less.

  7. KC390 make a lot of sense, can be use for fire control and for other dozens of missions !

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