FIGARO TOMORROW – The French company Kepplair Evolution aims to operate its first A330 changed into a bomber by 2024.
Numerous fires have ravaged the south of France in recent days. If the intervention forces gradually manage to control them, concerns persist about the risk of seeing these phenomena intensify in the years to come. A new sizeable tool could, however, join the arsenal in the fight against these devastating fires: A330 airliners transformed into water bombers.
This idea is that of an airline pilot, David Joubert, who was inspired by initiatives developed in the United States. To carry out his project, the pilot joined forces with a professor from the Toulouse Institute of Fluid Mechanics, Dominique Legendre. Once the company Kepplair Evolution was created, the two men invented a system for releasing retardants – liquids intended to limit the spread of fires – which could be installed in A330 airliners. Patented in 2019, the Kios system provides dense and effective coverage to block the advance of the flames. “The interest of the project is not to replace existing firefighting equipment and modules but to provide additional assistance to the public authorities.»Explains David Joubert.
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The A330, soon to be essential in the fight against fires?
Airliners have specific characteristics that could prove to be decisive in the fight against forest fires. Their capacity allows first “to store more than 40,000 liters of retardant in an aircraft – against a maximum of 10,000 liters for French classic bombers – and to draw a fire blocking line 500 meters long and 40 meters wide“. Their speed also makes it possible “rapid deployment to fire scenes across Europe“And their flight characteristics would even allow them to”send all over the world, in disasters like those experienced by Australia, out of reach for existing bombers“.
Another advantage, the planes would not be limited to the dropping of products to fight against fires. “Seats will be installed to organize medical repatriations or the transport of European civil protection modules in the context of natural disasters.“. “This multi-use will make the aircraft profitable throughout the year»Assures the company.
David Joubert finally praises the economic merits of such a project: “A used A330 costs between 3 and 8 million euros to purchase, with a cost of conversion into a bomber of between 15 and 20 million euros“. To compare, “the six Dash 8 water bombers ordered by the public authorities cost 400 million euros, or 66 million euros per aircraft»Indicates the entrepreneur. The A330s which the companies wish to get rid of in order to modernize their fleets will also be offered the opportunity of a second life.
Contacted by Le Figaro, the General Directorate of Civil Security and Crisis Management, on which conventional water bombers depend, has however expressed some reservations about the use of airliners to fight forest fires. These would seem “better suited to fighting large established fires (California, Siberia type), without the presence of a ground component in contact with the fire” according to her. The DGSCGC also indicates that today it favors “ propeller-powered airplanes, more suited to the geography of European operating areas“. The smaller Canadair CL415 and DASH8 have, for example, a “rapid rotation capability between fire and fueling stations or scooping sites»Specifies the DGSCGC.
A European ambition
Kepplair Evolution aims to be integrated into the European civil protection mechanism rescUE, by proposing to the European Union “long-term contracts or one-off contracts to respond to emergencies“. The company would oversee both the transformation of planes into bombers and their operation, offering fleet services to public authorities.
The device could be used in less equipped countries like Greece, ravaged by flames at the beginning of August. The company, which already works with many European players such as Airbus, which has made an aircraft available to Kepplair Evolution to develop a prototype.
If the transformation of aircraft into drop bombers is still in the planning stages, the company hopes “be able to put a first plane into service by the 2024 Olympic Games, so that the traffic lights do not spoil the party ”. In the longer term, David Joubert hopes to transform seven planes, three of which in the next five years. With the recent fires, interest in Kepplair Evolution aircraft is expected to grow.
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