In fall 2012, the Canadian government began planning in earnest to replace its current fleet of Coast Guard helicopters: 14 MBB Bo-105s and 3 Bell 206L LongRangers at the light end, supported by 6 Bell 212 twin-Hueys. The replacement buy has been structured as 2 competitions: one for 16 light helicopters, and one for 4-8 ‘medium’ helicopters. A 3rd buy may add 2-3 different helicopters for use aboard Canada’s new Icebreaker after 2017.
Unfortunately, the competition has followed the same template as almost every major Canadian defense buy over the last decade: a show of competition, masking a pre-selected winner. That has become a political issue in Canada, now that the government has announced its intent to sole-source a light helicopter award worth up to C$ 1 billion over 20 years.
Canada’s Coast Guard Helicopter Program
Canada’s size is well understood. It wouldn’t surprise many people to know that it has the world’s longest coastline and largest EEZ, but the freshwater dimension to its maritime services is often underestimated. Canada also has the world’s largest freshwater system, with a total of 2 million lakes and rivers that includes 4 sea-size Great Lakes. The St. Lawrence River is the Great Lakes’ connection to the Atlantic Ocean, and happens to be the world’s longest inland waterway. That gives Canada’s Coast Guard some key operating sites that are far from any ocean.
The Canadian Coast Guard’s (CCG) helicopters are most often used in logistics and patrol roles, per their tasking under the Department of Oceans and Fisheries. They do have a secondary backup role for Search and Rescue, though the Canadian Forces takes front-line responsibility with a mix of fixed wing (DHC-4 Buffalo) and helicopter (AW101, Bell 412) assets.
The replacement program divides the new CCG helicopter fleet into 2-3 competitions. All helicopters need sling load capability, and the mission profiles indicate a preference for rear clamshell doors to load personnel and equipment. They also highlight some esoteric options. If you haven’t heard of “heli-torching” before, it attaches a big torch (“incendiary device”) to the cargo hook, under remote control from the cockpit. It’s used to help handle oil slicks, and sounds like a fun mission to fly.
A fleet of 16-20 light helicopters must be able to be able to seat 4 passengers each, fit in hangars aboard the Coast Guard’s existing helicopter-capable vessels, and offer a useful load capacity of 1,000 pounds, with 2 hour cruise time on internal fuel.
A fleet of 4-8 medium helicopters must be able to seat 9 passengers each, land on the Coast Guard’s existing helicopter-capable vessels, and offer a lift capacity of 3,800 pounds, with 2 hour cruise time on internal fuel. That’s just slightly higher than the performance offered by the current Bell 212 fleet, and below what the industry generally classifies as “medium” helicopters. Unsurprisingly, it seems to be aimed at Bell’s own 412.
The forthcoming CCGS John G. Diefenbaker polar icebreaker will operate in more difficult conditions than previous icebreakers. Its helicopters are likely to become a 3rd set, with capabilities tailored for Arctic winter conditions. The icebreaker is designed to accommodate up to 2 medium-heavy helicopters, like the S-92 (entering Canadian Navy service as the CH-148) or the AW101 (in service for SAR as the CH-149). If the CCG elects to buy separate helicopters, it’s very likely to choose one of those 2 models, in order to take advantage of spares, expertise, and basing that already exists within the Canadian Forces.
The competition was expected to see offerings from all 3 major western helicopter manufacturers.
Bell Helicopter Textron has a major manufacturing facility in Quebec, and have offered the new twin-engine Bell 429 for the light helicopter segment. It offers a number of new features, including rear clamshell doors that push back alongside the fuselage to make them safer in poor weather and heavy winds. The government has accepted it as a sole-source winner for the light helicopter segment, after AgustaWestland and Eurocopter both declined to bid.
That controversy stemmed from Transport Canada’s decision to give the 429 a 500-pound weight overage beyond the Part 27 standard’s 7,010 pound limit for helicopters of its class, in order to add extra fuel and safety equipment. Transport Canada was 1 of 12 regulatory authorities to accept that request – but the US FAA hasn’t been one of them, and neither has Europe’s EASA. The other 2 potential competitors saw this Canadian exemption as an unfair advantage over their own certified offerings, hence their no-bid decision. It isn’t entirely clear whether Canada will be buying the basic 429 with skids, but operational advantages and legal complications around the 429WLG’s landing gear suggest the basic model.
Textron’s medium offering is expected to be some variant of the Bell 412, which already serves with the Canadian Forces as the CH-146. It offers less capability than other medium helicopter offerings, and lacks rear-load capabilities, but it meets the mandatory criteria. It also benefits from a combination of local production, fleet commonality, and a likely price advantage, which makes it the odds-on favorite. The question for would-be competitors is whether those odds are prohibitive, especially given Canada’s recent history of Potemkin RFPs. Early indications are that they won’t participate in a process they see as rigged.
AgustaWestland pulled out of the light helicopter segment, where it could have offered the popular AW109 or the single-engine AW119. If they decide to compete for the medium segment, they’re likely to enter the AW139. That light-medium helicopter is widely used in the offshore oil & gas industry, and Japan’s Coast Guard offers a comparable use case.
If more robust helicopters are needed for Arctic duties, their AW101 is in service with Canada’s military as the CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopter. It has suffered from some readiness issues, but the Sikorsky CH-148’s problems, and Canada’s desire to avoid an ‘orphan’ Arctic fleet, may give the AW101 an edge. But early indication are that they won’t compete in any of these tenders.
EADS Eurocopter also pulled out of the light helicopter segment. Its EC145 is a Bo-105 descendant of sorts, and is in wide service with the US Army as the UH-72A Lakota for transport, MEDEVAC, and SAR roles. Canada’s Bo-105s were assembled and serviced at a Eurocopter facility in Ontario, and the firm’s perceived exclusion has ignited political controversy. If Eurocopter chooses to participate in the medium helicopter competition, they’re expected to offer the recently-introduced EC175, which was co-developed with China. So far, it looks like they aren’t interested in a process they don’t see as fair or legitimate.
Sikorsky’s limited range of offerings leaves them on the outside looking in, as is generally the case in parapublic tenders. If the CCG chooses to buy different helicopters for their new icebreaker, the S-92 might have a chance. On the other hand, the CH-148 project continues to miss deadline after deadline.
Contracts and Key Events
April 13/15: Medium. The Canadian Coast Guard is purchasing seven more Bell 412EPI helicopters, in addition to the fifteen Light-Lift 429 models contracted for last year.
May 15/14: Medium. The Canadian Press reports that the Canadian government will be sole-sourcing again for the Coast Guard’s medium helicopter requirement. After repeated experiences along these lines, it’s reasonable to conclude that this is by design:
“The request for proposals closes on May 27, but rivals AgustaWestland, Airbus Helicopters Canada and Sikorsky have all signaled they won’t be submitting bids, leaving Bell and its model 412 chopper as the only contender…. The companies declining to take part are doing so because their aircraft are heavier than the maximum of 4,989 kilograms (11,000 pounds), a safety limit established for the decks of coast guard ships in the 1970s.
Industry sources said at least one potential bidder expressed concern that the standard was outdated and asked the federal government for data on how the weight restriction was calculated. The intention was to prove the decks could handle higher ratings, but officials just came back and said the standard was the standard.”
The Bell 412 is already in Canadian military service as the CH-146 Griffon. Sources: CP via Vancouver Sun, “Tories face de facto sole-source deal in second coast guard chopper contract”.
May 15/14: Buy… Canadian? CASR stephen Priestly offers some insights concerning the Bell 429:
“The B429 airframe is entirely new and based on Bell’s Modular Affordable Product Line concept – the B429 main rotor blades are also from the MAPL programme. The only major holdovers from the B427 are the powerplant/drive systems…. the B429 appears to be an impressive aircraft. The CCG project law suit and bid boycotts point to a bias towards a Canadian product. But is the B429 really a Canadian product? The composite fuselage sprang out of KAI (S.Korea) before being moved to AIDC (Taiwan), MR transmission by Kaman (US), MR blades by Triumph (US), while avionics are also almost exclusively American. The PW207D1s are the only big Canadian components (albeit, coming from a subsidiary of a US company). So, ‘Canadian’? … maybe.”
May 12/14: Airbus annoyed. Airbus is a lot less than happy with Canada’s decision:
“Airbus Helicopters Canada deeply regrets that the federal government has moved forward and awarded the Canadian Coast Guard Light-lift Helicopter contract. Our lawsuit against Public Works & Government Services Canada on this tender is currently before the Federal Court and has not been resolved…. the government’s Request for Proposals for replacement of the Canadian Coast Guard fleet of Light-lift helicopters was biased to favour one manufacturer and consequently resulted in a sole source tender. Furthermore, Transport Canada’s awarding of a special weight exemption to Bell Helicopter in 2011 created an unfair competitive advantage and contributed to this RFP attracting only one bid.
May 12/14: Light contract. Canada’s government announces a C$ 172 million (about $155 million) award to Bell Helicopter in Mirabel, Quebec for 15 Bell 429 helicopters. This buy takes care of the light portion of Canadian Coast Guard’s Fleet Renewal Plan, which ended up being uncontested after the other bidders withdrew.
The government adds that details of the contract are being finalized, while saying that they expect the first Bell 429 in May 2015, with 1 helicopter delivered each month thereafter until July 2016. Sources: Government of Canada, “Government Of Canada Awards Contract For New Coast Guard Helicopters”.
Feb 26/14: Medium RFP. A tender for “medium” Coast Guard helicopters, with the standard requirement of 100% industrial investment offsets:
“This requirement is to purchase between four (4) and eight (8) Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) medium-lift helicopters, initial sparing, ground support equipment, optional equipment and training, as and when reques ted support services, and simulator design support. The award date for the contract is forecasted for fall 2014 with helicopter deliveries beginning eighteen (18) months after contract award.”
Industry has until May 27/14, to submit a proposal. The question is whether anyone other than Bell will bid. Sources: BAS.gc.ca tender F7013-120014/F | Canada PWGSC, “Release of the Request for Proposals to Procure Medium Lift Helicopters”.
Revised Medium helicopter RFP
Sept 24/13: Lawsuit. Words that your company doesn’t want to hear from a federal appeals judge, from Canadian justice Robert M. Mainville:
“[Bell’s] conduct departs to a marked degree from ordinary standards of decent behaviour. It must be denounced in a manner that deters similar misconduct in the future and marks the community’s collective condemnation.”
In concrete terms, it means Textron violated Eurocopter’s patents when they designed the Bell 429WLG variant’s landing gear, and the court considers the violation egregious enough to allow punitive damages. The violating design has since been modified, so the key for Bell is that they can keep selling the 429 and just wait for the damages award. Sources: Montreal Gazette, “Bell Helicopter rebuked in patent infringement case”.
Bell loses lawsuit
June 20/13: 429 sole-source controversy. The Canadian government states its intent to buy the Bell 429 for the light helicopter segment, without competition, after AgustaWestland and EADS Eurocopter bow out. The C$ 200 million initial buy could easily grow to C$1 billion in total, once the expected 20-year support contract is factored in.
That creates a controversy, and governing party backbencher Rick Dykstra [Cons – St. Catharines] questions the sole-source decision, and the certification exemption that pre-empted the entire competition. In a letter obtained by The National Post, Dykstra asks Transport Minister Denis Lebel [Cons – Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean] why Bell Helicopters in Quebec got its 500-pound class 27 certification weight exemption, which undermined the competition’s credibility and fairness “in the absence of any clear public interest”. That exemption was consequential:
“In an email to CKTB News, Eurocopter says it withdrew from the process after concluding it had no shot of winning. It calls the weight exemption an “unfair competitive advantage” and is currently reviewing all legal recoursese [sic] with respect to the tendering of the contract.”
Neither the US FAA, nor Europe’s EASA, agreed with that exemption. Transport Canada minister Denis Lebel, whose department granted it, is also the government’s Economic Development Minister for Quebec. Bell’s plant is located in Mirabel, PQ. National Post | CKTB 610.
June 5/13: Light RFP. Public Works and Government Services Canada issues a Request for Proposals (RFP) for 4-8 medium Canadian Coast Guard helicopters.
April 7/13: Light RFP. Public Works and Government Services Canada issues a Request for Proposals (RFP) for 16-20 light Canadian Coast Guard helicopters. Reuters.
August 23/12: LoI. Ottawa Citizen’s Defence Watch:
“A letter of interest has been issued to the aerospace industry and the government says the process to purchase up to 24 helicopters will take around five years.
Some readers have sent Defence Watch emails questioning why it will take so long to procure non-military, relatively unsophisticated aircraft? Others have suggested it will take longer than five years – they point to the example of the “new” Polar Icebreaker that the Harper government has announced (in 2005 while in opposition and in 2008 during one of Harper’s visits to the Arctic).
But the vessel isn’t expected to be in the water until 2017, almost 10 years from the official announcement. Some Defence Watch readers also ask why other countries can build icebreakers in two to three years when it takes Canada almost a decade?”
Letter of Intent
* Buyandsellgc.ca (June 5/12, #F7013-120014/E) – HELICOPTER PROJECT (DFO). Closes June 27/13.
* Canadian Coast Guard – Why Does the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Need Helicopters?
* CASR (September 2012) – Canadian Coast Guard Replacement ‘Helicopter Project’ – Options
* DID – Canada’s CH-148 Cyclones: Better Late, or Never? Naval S-92 helicopters.
* DID (June 8/09) – Readiness a Problem for Canada’s Aircraft. Specifically, its CH-149/ AW101 helicopters.
* DID (Sept 16/07) – IMP Retains CH-149 SAR Helicopter Maintenance