REGINA – The province is upgrading the fleet of aircraft it uses to fight forest fires in northern Saskatchewan. The government will spend $42 million in the next four years and over the long term expects to spend $200 million.
Initially, it will purchase four new land-based turbine airtankers and three twin-engine turbine guide aircraft.
Windfall cash will pay for new planes.
Windfall cash will pay for new planes. Cash for the planes, the $42 million portion, is coming from a one-time windfall of oil and equalization money announced earlier this month.
Saskatchewan has $900 million more than it expected to have when the spring budget was announced.
Environment Minister David Forbes said the aging technology currently in use must be replaced to help firefighters do their jobs.
“We know the incidence of forest fires are going up and the time that it takes to keep these planes in good shape is also going up,” Forbes said. “We need to make sure that our planes can meet the challenges of maintaining a healthy forest.”
Forbes says over the long-term the government also plans to upgrade or renew its six amphibious water bombers.
The total bill for all of the new equipment is expected to be $200 million.
Environment Department official Alan Parkinson said some of the planes are at the end of their useful life.
“We’re estimating that they’ve got about a five-year life span ahead of them,”he said. “They’ve been in use either in military purposes, or for forest fire fighting, since the end of the First World War.”
The Saskatchewan government spent four years and more than a million dollars studying options for replacing the aging aircraft it uses to fight forest fires.
Among those, was the idea of sharing a fleet of airplanes with Australia. However, the department rejected that proposal.
The Saskatchewan Party said it want more details about the Australian option.