VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian government expects to award a contract next year to Airbus for four new strategic tanker transport aircraft, according to the country’s National Defence Department.

The cost of the contract is yet to be determined, but the government has allocated up to CA$5 billion (U.S. $4 billion) to purchase the planes.

Airbus was designated as the only supplier qualified to provide the tankers to the Royal Canadian Air Force. As a result, a formal request for its proposal for the planes was issued to the firm on May 13, 2022.

National Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said the government has not yet received the proposal.

“Once Airbus’ response is received, an assessment and negotiation will occur,” Lamirande said, noting that a contract is expected to be awarded by April 2023.

The Canadian Armed Forces found the Airbus A330 MRTT, a refueling and transport plane, is the only aircraft qualified for the job. The Air Force wants the first of the A330s operational by 2028.

The new aircraft are part of Canada’s Strategic Tanker Transport Capability project, meant to replace the existing CC-150 Polaris aircraft flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Those refueling and transport planes have been in operation since 1992.

Originally six new aircraft were to be purchased as part of the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability project. But on July 14, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand announced the military would acquire two used Airbus A330s and eventually upgrade those to become part of the Air Force’s tanker and transport fleet.

Canada acquired those used aircraft, built in 2015, from International Airfinance Corp., a global aircraft leasing company, in a deal worth about $102 million.

Lamirande said the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the commercial aviation industry created favorable market conditions to procure the used A330-200 aircraft at the best value for Canada. The government is scheduled to receive the aircraft in December 2022 and April 2023, and then ferry them to the country shortly after, she added.

“There are a number of predelivery and acceptance activities that need to be completed before any used aircraft will arrive in Canada” Lamirande said. Those include scheduled preventive maintenance, limited retrofit to prepare for service within the Air Force, painting of the aircraft, final delivery inspection and acceptance checks.

The used aircraft are currently configured for long-haul commercial use. They will initially be used for an interim period to perform cargo and troop airlift operations, said Lamirande. The planes could also be used to transport civilian passengers during humanitarian relief operations, as well as fly VIPs, such as Canada’s prime minister.

These used aircraft will, after an interim period of operations, be turned over to Airbus for conversion to the MRTT configuration as the other four new aircraft expected to be purchased.

David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.

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