One of the bids for the Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Aircraft Replacement Project has officially named Comox as its location of choice for the accompanying Search and Rescue Training Centre.
Team Spartan, the force behind the pitch for the C-27J as the new FWSAR plane, was in the Comox Valley Thursday to meet with local delegates and introduce its platform to media, as well as the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.
The FWSAR Replacement Project is a federal initiative to not only replace the aging planes currently being used in search and rescue ops, but also to integrate to a single nation-wide fleet. Currently, there are two types of SAR planes being used; the CC-115 Buffalo and CC-130 legacy Hercules.
The C-27J boasts greater payload, greater range and greater speed than the Buffalo, currently being used by 442 Squadron out of 19 Wing.
There are three major contenders for the project; Team Spartan, the group representing the Airbus C295, and Lockheed Martin’s CC130J Hercules.
The other locations being considered for the training centre are 17 Wing Winnipeg (Man.), 8 Wing Trenton (Ont.), and 14 Wing Greenwood (NS).
To date, Team Spartan was the only one to officially declare Comox as its location of choice.
“We chose Comox as the training centre because of its unique position in the country,” said Team Spartan spokesman Steve Lucas, at a press conference in Courtenay, Thursday afternoon. “It’s an ideal location, not only because of its proximity to other SAR facilities, but most importantly for its proximity to nearby mountain ranges and year-round open water, all of which is required for proper fixed-engine search and rescue training.
“The training centre to be built will be a three-storey facility, with around 72,000 square feet of space and will house training classrooms, flight simulators, mission simulators, maintenance simulators and a training hangar to house a full-scale C-27J maintenance training aircraft platform.”
The centre itself will take up to four years to build, with ATCO Frontec, of Calgary, Alta. named as the company responsible for the design and construction. Much of the contracting is expected to be handled locally.
“One of the criteria is that some 15 per cent of the amount of monies that are going to go into the acquisition phase are to be spent in small and medium enterprises,” said Lucas. “The major construction piece, certainly at our end, is the construction of the training centre. So we kind of think there is going to be a fair amount of prep work that will be done by local businesses. That will be in the first three, four years of the program. There are going to be a number of positions that are created. The training activity that takes place here is going to be more complex than the existing one; it will involve more people. We think that number will be around 30 people; those would be non-uniformed people.”
Bigelow likes Comox’s chances
Comox Valley Airport CEO Fred Bigelow, who was part of the 12-person CVEDS technical working group that put together the package promoting Comox as the training centre location, said Comox stands up favourably in comparison to all the other locations.
“This isn’t just old-fashioned pork barrelling; this is the right thing for the nation and it really is the right thing for the air force,” he said. “442 already has the Cormorant helicopter training here, the school for search and rescue where they train the search and rescue technicians, and we’ve got the geography. We’ve got the terrain they need.
“It should happen, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
The government is expect to make its decision in the fall.
Bigelow figures Trenton or Greenwood to be the toughest competition.
“I don’t think Winnipeg would be compliant. Interestingly, Greenwood in Nova Scotia is considered ‘mountainous’ territory in Canada… but it’s not the same. When you go into a valley where you have eight, nine, 10,000-foot peaks on either side and you are flying at 500 feet above ground level, that’s not the same as when the top of the mountain is 2,000 feet. So technically they are compliant, but … and Trenton, on the shores of Lake Ontario… those would be the two main competitors.”
Perpetual economic spin-off
Bigelow also addressed the economic spin-off, saying that while the details of the construction aspects are under wraps until the contract is awarded, the long-term benefits far exceed the additional permanent positions.
“We are not talking hundreds of jobs here, but 30 well-paid jobs for this Valley is not insignificant. But on top of that, is that this is going to be the training centre for everybody who flies and maintains that aircraft. So you’ll have the initial guys going through, learning how to fix it, and learning how to fly it. But then every year, the crews will have to come back and spend a couple of weeks. So they will spend money, stay in hotels. This is where people will have to come back and do their recurrency training.”
Another aspect is the long-term sustainability of 19 Wing.
“When I first came here, there were four big squadrons; now there are two…. putting this training base here will just make this airdrome so much more important for this country. If you look toward the future, if you put a bigger footprint on this base, it sort of secures its future.”
442 Squadron benefits
Bigelow added that regardless of the government’s decision of location, 442 Squadron will benefit substantially from the project.
“It will have a huge positive effect, because we will be replacing 50-year-old airplanes with new ones,” he said. “More importantly, this project will replace two types of planes with one. And right now 442 Squadron is the only one that uses the Buffalo. All the others use the Hercules. And there are very few Buffalo operators around the world. Getting parts and supplies is so difficult.
“So this is going to be such a huge improvement, for 442.”