Cobham SAR Services has won a 12-year, $640 million contract to supply and operate search and rescue aircraft for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
The new deal will see Cobham operate four Bombardier Challenger 604 special missions jets modified for search and rescue to be based at three locations around Australia – Perth, Melbourne and Cairns – from 2016. One aircraft will be based at each location, with a fourth serving as an operational spare.
“The future capability will use faster and longer-range aircraft to provide a similar level of capability to our current service, but using fewer aircraft,” AMSA chief executive officer Mick Kinley said in a statement on Friday.
AMSA’s current fixed-wing aircraft SAR capability is provided by Paspaley Pearl Group subsidiary AeroRescue, which operates five Dornier 328 turboprops based in Brisbane and Darwin as well as Perth, Melbourne and Cairns. AeroRescue will continue to provide SAR services until Cobham takes over the service, with operations due to begin from Perth in August 2016 and from Melbourne and Cairns from “late” 2016.
Cobham will acquire, own, modify, operate and maintain the four Challenger jets, with modification work, much of which will be undertaken at Cobham’s Adelaide base, to begin later this year.
The new aircraft will be fitted with a range of sensors including a search radar, FLIR, beacon and direction finders, plus satellite communications and a mission management system. In addition they will feature “high-vision” windows and air operable doors for aerial delivery “for equipment such as life-rafts, satellite phones, food and water to be dropped to a person in distress”, AMSA said.
Similarly-configured CL-604 Multi-Mission Aircraft are in service with the Royal Danish Air Force, used for maritime surveillance and SAR. These aircraft were modified by Canada’s Field Aviation, which has partnered with Cobham in the past on Cobham’s Coastwatch Dash 8 aircraft.
However, “At this time we are not in a position to communicate which partners have been ultimately selected to be on the program,” Peter Nottage, sector president of Cobham Aviation Services, told Australian Aviation in an emailed statement.
“We are working with them now and this should be confirmed shortly.”
The aircraft 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 taskings 24 hours a day.
“Building on Cobham’s 30 years of experience in special mission operations around the world, including in Australia, the turnkey solution we will provide to AMSA represents an evolutionary improvement in range capability and speed to incident sites with longer loiter and search time over the search zone,” Nottage said.
“In addition, the Mission Management and Communications System offers technological advantages, including latest-generation electronic sensor technology and broadband satellite communications with real-time sharing of streamed video, audio and imagery between the aircraft and AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre, based in Canberra, Australia.”
The 12-year contract also includes three one-year contract extension options, which if exercised would take the full value of the deal to over $700 million.