In 2000, the US Customs Service started a process to rationalize its aircraft fleet while increasing the surveillance capability. This would in 2003 lead to the first order for a Dash 8 Series 200 MSA modified by Field Aviation. Prior to placing the order, this customer had conducted independent evaluations of potential aircraft and sensor types. Critical elements in the decision process were the Dash 8 MSAs' ability to meet all mission requirements, and Field Aviation's ability to build on the success in Australia and customize the equipment and final configuration without any major development costs.
The first Dash 8 MSA for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was based on the Series 200 aircraft, and the configuration and equipment suite was modeled fairly closely on the aircraft that Field Aviation had modified for the Australian COASTWATCH operation. Upgrades included a more powerful version of the SeaView search radar and conformal observation windows that are also certified as emergency exits.
For the CBP program, Field Aviation was responsible for all structural and aircraft systems modifications as a subcontractor to a US prime contractor, Alliant Techsystems - Integrated Systems Division, that completed the aircraft by installing the search radar and EO pod and its own sensor and management system.
During the time period from 2003 to 2009, Field Aviation modified and delivered a total of 7 Dash 8 MSAs for CBP, the first 4 based on the Series 200 aircraft and the last 3 on the larger Series 300 aircraft. The program put great emphasis on commonality and interchangeability, not only between aircraft within the same airframe series, but also between the Series 200 and Series 300 aircraft.
Field Aviation has achieved this by designing all elements of the Dash 8 MSA modification to maximize common use, regarding both the structural changes and the provisions and components that are introduced. Examples of common parts across all Dash 8 MSAs that have been modified by Field Aviation include: common radome with jig-drilled mounting provisions that fit all search radars installed to date; common installation for Wescam MX-15 and Flir Systems Star Safire EO systems, common observation windows/type III Emergency exits; common operator and observer seats and seat adapters; common upgrades to APU electrical power; and mission override for EGPWS, to mention a few.
CBP was also the first MSA customer to take advantage of Field Aviation's STC to increase the Maximum Take Off Weight for the Dash 8 Series 200 MSA from 36,300 lbs. to 37,300 lbs. This STC adds a 1,000-lb. payload capacity or extends the mission endurance by 1 hour with the same payload - without having any impact on the aircraft's structural life or frequency of structural inspections.