OTTAWA, Canada — Embraer is set to shake up the competition to provide Canada with search-and-rescue aircraft as the Brazilian firm seeks export orders for its new KC-390.

The CAN $3.1 billion (US $2.3 billion) search-and-rescue aircraft procurement has long been seen as a competition between Airbus’ C-295 and Alenia’s C-27J. But Embraer officials told Defense News the company will submit be submitting its bid in January when Canada requests formal proposals from aerospace firms.

Bids for the Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) program are to be submitted Jan. 11.

The KC-390 conducted its first flight in February 2015 but the aircraft is not expected to enter into service until early 2018.

Geraldo Gomes, vice president of business development for Embraer Defense and Security, said the aircraft is well suited for Canada's search-and-rescue needs. Powered by two jet engines, it has the speed and range to quickly respond to rescue operations, including in the Arctic, he said. In addition, the aircraft has the capability to stay on station for long periods, Gomes said.

Sixty aircraft are on order for Brazil, Chile, Portugal, Argentina, the Czech Republic and Colombia. Gomes said the KC-390 was designed to be a search-and-rescue aircraft and that one of its strong selling points is its low life-cycle costs.

Aerospace industry sources said that selection of having the KC-390 selected for Canada’s FWSAR project would give the company a foothold in the North American market for the aircraft and a high profile customer in the search-and-rescue arena. Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and its search–and-rescue aircraft are also expected to cover the massive Arctic region of the country.

But the industry sources also questioned whether the Brazilian-built plane would be ready in time for the Canadian program.

Gomes said the company does not see any issues with the delivery schedule for the KC-390. The Royal Canadian Air Force has not outlined exactly when the first aircraft would be delivered. A winning bidder is expected to be selected by Canada in late 2016, according to industry representatives. Delivery of the first aircraft is required three years after the contract is signed.

The Canadian government noted in its Defence Acquisition Guide 2015, published May 28, that it expects all aircraft for the FWSAR program to be delivered by 2023.

Both Airbus and Alenia have been courting the Canadian government for more than a decade on FWSAR. Their aircraft are proven and currently flying in search-and-rescue missions.

Asked whether the Embraer bid will change the tone of the competition, Pablo Molina, head of military aircraft for Airbus Defence and Space in Canada, responded, "We remain convinced that we will be able to offer the best solution to Canada with the C295."

Alenia officials said it is company policy not to comment on a competitor's bid.

Steve Lucas, a former head of the Royal Canadian Air Force and now an adviser to Alenia, said the firm is in the final stages of preparing its bid.

"We are confident about the aircraft and have put together an excellent team," he added.

Alenia Aermacchi North America has brought together a team that includes IMP Aerospace, Halifax, NS; General Dynamics Canada, Ottawa; DRS Technologies, Ottawa; and Kelowna Flightcraft, Kelowna, BC.

Airbus Defence and Space has teamed with Provincial Aerospace, St. John's, Newfoundland; Pratt & Whitney Canada, Longueuil, Quebec; CAE, Montreal; Vector Aerospace, Richmond, BC; and L-3 WESCAM, Burlington, Ontario.

Gomes said Embraer has had initial discussions with Canadian firms but has not yet settled on any partners for the Canadian bid.

Lockheed Martin had been was looking at bidding the C-130J for the FWSAR program, but industry sources said Lockheed is now reconsidering.

Asked whether Lockheed Martin Canada would submit a bid, company spokeswoman Cindy Tessier stated in an email that, "out of respect for the procurement process, Lockheed Martin does not comment on competitive tenders that are underway."

The new planes will replace the Royal Canadian Air Force's 40-year-old Buffalo aircraft and older model C-130s currently assigned to search-and-rescue duties.

The FWSAR project is divided into a contract for the acquisition of the aircraft and another contract for 20 years of in-service support.

FWSAR originally envisioned acquiring 17 aircraft. But that has now changed and will be capability-based, said government officials. The aerospace firms are to submit in their bids the number of aircraft they believe necessary are needed for Canada to handle the needed search-and-rescue capability, they added.


David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.

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