For companies that have invested the past 14 years in Canada’s fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) replacement project, the release on March 31 of the long-anticipated Request for Proposals might have been cause to check the calendar.
It was not a pre-April Fool’s prank, however. In documents made available to bidders previously registered with its FWSAR source list, the government laid out its requirement to “procure a fleet of new sensor-equipped aircraft, including long-term in-service support for a period up to 20 years, in order to provide an effective response to SAR incidents anywhere in the Canadian Area of Responsibility, and to support the National Search and Rescue Program.”
When that source list was first published in December 2013, six companies expressed interest in the replacement of the RCAF’s venerable CC115 Buffalos and CC130H Hercules: Airbus Defence and Space; Alenia Aermacchi; Bell Boeing; Embraer Defence and Security; Lockheed Martin; and Viking Air.
The FWSAR program has faced plenty of problems since it was first announced in 2003, including accusations that the original statement of requirements favoured one contender. But the shift from a platform to a capability-based requirement has changed the equation considerably, according to one contender.
“Having the procurement changed to capability-based is our desired solution,” said Pablo Molina, head of Airbus DS Military Aircraft in Canada, “because we can provide the capability based on the current bases that the air force is operating and with a lower cost than anyone can do it.”
While the RCAF would prefer to maintain its current basing structure for SAR, it left open the option to alternative proposals in a draft RFP.
In an interview shortly before the final RFP was released, Molina said that Airbus’ partnership with Provincial Aerospace (PAL) and the experience of its customer base that includes 120 aircraft in operation, include SAR operations in Finland and Portugal, would “give us a very reliable basis” to calculate the data required to meet operations and performance requirements for all SAR missions, especially maritime and Arctic.
The FWSAR program will be an early test for the government’s year-old Defence Procurement Strategy. Molina said Airbus has been banking IRB credits with Industry Canada, primarily through its commercial business, but sees new export opportunities with its FWSAR partners, especially PAL – it recently signed an agreement to explore foreign markets collaboratively. (The other Canadian partners include CAE, Pratt & Whitney, Vector Aerospace and L-3 WESCAM.)
The RFP closes on September 28.