Cobham Aviation Services says it has started operations with the first of four Bombardier Challenger CL-604 jets under contract for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
In October 2014, Cobham secured a 12-year, $640 million contract to supply and operate search and rescue aircraft for AMSA.
Under the deal, Cobham would operate the four special mission jets that have been modified for search and rescue for AMSA. One aircraft will be based at three locations around Australia – Perth, Melbourne and Cairns – with a fourth serving as an operational spare.
The first jet, VH-XNC, was unveiled by then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss in January, when it was being fitted for SAR at Cobham Aviation Services’s hangar in Adelaide.
On Friday, Cobham said in a statement the first aircraft would be based in Cairns.
The Challengers have forward-looking infra-red and anomaly detection sensors, live stream video to assist in planning rescues, and carry stores such as life rafts, survival equipment and satellite phones.
Cobham Aviation Services chief executive Peter Nottage said the aircraft represented a “quantum leap” for Australia’s airborne search and rescue capability.
“The technology on board this aircraft will enable AMSA’s Search and Rescue officers to be virtual crew members for the first time ever, with eyes and ears at the scene as events unfold,” Nottage said in a statement.
“It is the culmination of a complex and challenging program of work and is testament to the quality and skills of Cobham’s people and the excellence of our suppliers and partners here in Australia and abroad. It underscores the capability and sophistication of Australian technology and workers.”
The aircraft, which replace the Aerorescue Dorniers, will be operated by a crew of five – captain, first officer, visual search officer, electronic search observer and aircraft mission coordinator. Aircraft and crews will be on permanent standby to deploy on search and rescue 24 hours a day.
The 12-year contract also included three one-year contract extension options, which if exercised would take the full value of the deal to over $700 million.
It was reported at the time the contract was awarded in October 2014 that Cobham would begin operations in August starting in Perth and then Melbourne and Cairns from late 2016, taking over service provided by Paspaley Pearl Group subsidiary AeroRescue, which uses five Dornier 328 turboprops based in Brisbane and Darwin as well as Perth, Melbourne and Cairns.
However, The Australian reported in November Cobham had experienced delays in modification, integration and certification of the aircraft by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, leading to a later-than-expected start of operations.