Minister unveils first Challenger SAR jets for AMSA

written by Chris Milne | January 27, 2016
Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Warren Truss. Cobham, Adelaide Airport, South Australia. Photo: John Krüger
The first of four Challenger 604s for AMSA. (John Krüger/The Lead)

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss has unveiled the first Bombardier Challenger 604 which will replace Aerorescue Dorniers for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) search and rescue operations.

On Wednesday, Truss inspected the first of four Challenger 604s, which was currently being fitted for SAR at Cobham Aviation Services’s hangar in Adelaide.

Australia was responsible for 10 per cent of the globe for international maritime and aeronautical search and rescue services and therefore needed a world-class maritime search and rescue capability, Truss told reporters in Adelaide.

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The special mission aircraft were being acquired by Adelaide-based Cobham Aviation Services under a $640 million, 12-year contract that was awarded in 2014 and covered modifying, equipping, operating and maintaining the CL 604s.

A potential three-year extension to the contract would increase its value to more than $700 million.

Truss said the aircraft would be equipped with “a whole range of new technologies” to respond rapidly, locate and assist people in distress in the water or on land.

Some of this technology was not available in the early search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, he said.

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The Challengers will 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.

“The aircraft will also be able to live stream video of the situation in real time as they plan the rescue of those people,” Truss said.

“So this is an important investment in the safety of people on vessels or in remote areas across Australia who find themselves in trouble. The capability reflects our commitment to providing search and rescue responses in line with our international obligations for aeronautical and maritime search and rescue.”

The first Challenger, VH-XNC, arrived in Adelaide in December and was due to enter service in August, operating from a base in Perth. Two more aircraft – to be based in Cairns and Melbourne’s Essendon Airport – were expected to follow later in 2016. The fourth aircraft will be used for back-up and to replace aircraft which are off-line for maintenance.

Each of the new aircraft was valued at $6-7 million, fully equipped.

Cobham Aviation Services president Peter Nottage said the company was “delighted to be bringing this sort of capability” to Australia.

Cobham was working with local companies to develop much of the equipment and technologies for the new aircraft, with most of the modification work being undertaken at the company’s Adelaide Airport facilities.

The aircraft would be operated with five-member crews – captain, first officer, visual search officer, electronic search observer and aircraft mission co-ordinator. They will be on permanent standby to enable search-and-rescue tasks to be mounted around the clock.

Truss said AMSA coordinated 429 rescues in 2015, saving 219 lives.

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7 Comments

  • James

    says:

    Nice acquisition indeed, a much faster response time when needed.

  • ian

    says:

    So what happens to the 328-100’s ?

    Will they be scraped or do they still have some useful life ?

    Can they be used as passenger aircraft ?

    They could surely get in & out of some short runways.

  • Taurean Lea

    says:

    I would love to see more Rescue jets come to Australia :).

  • MauriceDee

    says:

    What about fire bombing as a secondary duty?

  • boleropilot

    says:

    hey Maurice, I’m with you – we lost over 200 houses to wildfires within a couple of weeks recently – personally, I would rather see the money spent entirely on fire bombers – but if the 604s could be retro-fitted for fire bombing duties, that’s the icing on the cake…

  • Raymond

    says:

    So how do you think these aircraft can be on call for SAR duties if they’re out fighting fires?

    There are reasons why fire bombing aircraft are brought to Australia during our fire season instead of investing in our own dedicated fleet. It might be nice to have, however all things considered it makes more sense to do this.

    As this article says, we are responsible for 10 per cent of the globe’s SAR and therefore need a commensurate SAR capability 24/7/365. Professional, dedicated and capable fire bombers can be contracted here during our summer months when they’re not required in the northern hemisphere. Saying we should entirely spend money on fire bombers rather than SAR, which is required yearlong, is ridiculous.

  • boleropilot

    says:

    Hello Raymond, and thanks for your ridiculing and vitriolic reply to my post. If you had bothered to take any notice of fire bombing requirements in Australia and overseas you would be aware that because stupid humans have made such a mess of our environment that wildfires are becoming more common, and that fire seasons here and overseas are overlapping – that means the availability of overseas aircraft at the beginning and end of OUR fire season is now reduced (and is getting worse).

    Yes, SAR is important, and they occasionally actually give some bang for the buck. Personally (in my obviously ridiculous opinion) I would rather see 200+ homes (not to mention lives) saved.

    By the way – feel free to express your opinion, but let’s be nice about it, OK?

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