A Vancouver Island aviation company has received a $3.4 million investment from the federal government for its ambitious work in the aerial firefighting industry.
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, was at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport (AVRA) on Thursday, Oct. 11 to announce this repayable investment in Coulson Aviation through the Strategic Innovation Fund. The family-owned aviation company, based in Port Alberni, has been working on converting six Boeing 737 passenger airplanes into dual-purpose aerial firefighting tankers and passenger aircraft. The FireLiners include a 4,000-gallon capacity for water or retardant and 66 seats for moving fire personnel.
This project, said Qualtrough, is putting Canada at the forefront of the aerial firefighting industry.
“Port Albern is at the centre of Canada’s forest industry,” she said on Thursday. “With forests come the risk of forest fire. That means that Coulson is geographically well-situated to design, develop and manufacture the aerial firefighting technology of the future.”
Wayne Coulson, president and CEO, introduced the first FireLiner of the fleet on Thursday. The new aircraft finished all of its flight-testing in the U.S. and will be in Australia within a week, where it has picked up a five-year contract. It will be the first 737 ever used in fire suppression.
“This has never been done before,” said Qualtrough. “This innovative project will solve a real problem and increase efficiency by providing the ability to deliver both fire retardant and firefighting personnel at the same time.”
Coulson said the eventual goal is to have the crafts fighting fires in British Columbia.
“Hopefully at some point in time, we’d like to get them back here at home in B.C.,” he said.
This new investment by the federal government, said Qualtrough, will create up to 15 new jobs, while maintaining 73 more in Port Alberni. Coulson Aviation will also continue to partner with post-secondary institutions for the “local development of skilled aerospace workers.”
Coulson thanked the City of Port Alberni and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District for their support on Thursday. It is because of the region’s airport, which reopened last year after an $8 million expansion, that the 737s were able to land on the new runway.
Mayor Mike Ruttan said on Thursday that this is exactly what the region was hoping for in its new airport when the expansion was announced.
“This couldn’t have happened without all of us working together,” he added.
Although Coulson Group of Companies also operates the famed Martin Mars air tankers—the largest water bombers in the world—Coulson chose not to speak to the Mars bombers on Thursday.