The first of four re-purposed wildfire airtankers are to arrive in Saskatchewan by the end of next summer.

The province announced in the budget earlier this month that it had purchased two Dash 8-Q400AT models and two Dash 8-Q400MRE models, for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency at an approximate cost of $187 million.

The planes will replace the current fleet of land-based air tanker aircraft, which consists of four Convair 580 airplanes. Those planes will approach the end of their useful lifespan in 2027.

“Saskatchewan relies on land-based air tanker aircraft as part of its approach to managing wildfires,” Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Paul Merriman said. “These aircraft are used in instances where water bombers may not be able to access lakes to fill up their tanks.” 

The Dash 8-Q400AT planes are dedicated airtankers, while the Dash 8-Q400MRE models can be fitted as an airtanker and reconfigured to provide multiple roles for air operations such as air evacuations, patient transport, and cargo hauling. Both models have increased capacity and efficiency, and produce 30 percent less emissions than a similar sized airtanker.

The financial impact for the SPSA’s 2024-25 capital budget is a $5.52 million deposit with an additional three-year payment plan commitment. Federal funding of $16.29 million is committed to offset the cost of the aircraft through Natural Resources Canada’s Fighting and Managing Wildfires in a Changing Climate Program.

“These planes will replace the SPSA’s aging land-based airtanker fleet with a modern, supportable aircraft with an anticipated useful life of 25 years,” Merriman said. “They will also support the SPSA’s ability to provide an operational response to more emergencies and public safety events beyond wildfires.”

The first of the four airplanes is expected to arrive in late summer of 2025, with the remaining arriving by the end of 2027.