Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announces that the federal government of Canada will spend $2.3 billion to replace the military’s ancient search-and-rescue planes with 16 new aircraft from European aerospace giant Airbus that at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ont., on December 8, 2016. The Royal Canadian Air Force will fly its ancient search-and-rescue planes longer than expected as COVID-19 further delays the delivery of replacement aircraft. Defence officials are playing down any significant impact from the latest delay, which has left the first new search-and-rescue plane built by Airbus stranded in Spain. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Military to fly old rescue planes longer as COVID-19 delays new aircraft

Planes are all around 50 years old and scheduled for retirement as maintenance requirements have grown

The Royal Canadian Air Force is being forced to fly its ancient search-and-rescue planes even longer as COVID-19 further delays the delivery of replacement aircraft.

The Defence Department is playing down any significant impact on the military’s search-and-rescue operations from the new delay, which has left the first of 16 new Airbus-built CC-295s stranded in Spain for at least several more months.

Jessica Lamirande, a department spokeswoman, said a recent analysis conducted by the Air Force and procurement officials concluded the military has “the necessary flexibility” to keep flying its current search-and-rescue planes.

Those planes include six Buffalo aircraft and seven older-model Hercules planes. Their primary role is to find and rescue Canadians stranded or in danger in places or situations where municipal or provincial authorities are unable to respond.

Yet the planes are all around 50 years old and scheduled for retirement as maintenance requirements have grown and spare parts become harder to find. In 2014, officials had to get parts from a museum in Trenton, Ont., in 2014 to fix a broken Hercules.

Canada’s auditor general also raised concerns about the state of the aircraft in a scathing report in 2013, noting the Buffalo aircraft were unavailable on 119 occasions in 2011. In five of those cases, no other airplane was available.

READ MORE: Air Force accepts first new search-and-rescue plane despite issue with manuals

Lamirande said the Buffalo and Hercules planes would be able to operate until the CC-295s are in the air, saying: “We have the necessary flexibility to ensure continued and safe SAR coverage utilizing the existing capability.

“Although there are still schedule risks given the uncertainty of the pandemic situation, Canadians can rest assured that the Royal Canadian Air Force will continue to provide uninterrupted search-and-rescue services until we transition to the new capability.”

The federal government first started looking for new search-and-rescue planes in 2002, but the effort ground to a halt in 2007 after the Air Force was accused of rigging its requirements to favour an Italian-made plane.

A new competition was eventually launched and saw Airbus selected in 2016 to build 16 new CC-295s for $2.4 billion, with the first plane to be delivered last December and flying rescue missions this year.

Lamirande acknowledged the aircraft will remain in Spain until at least the early fall, saying the COVID-19 pandemic set back production as well as the military’s ability to travel to Spain to review the plane and ensure it meets the Air Force’s requirements.

“We are and have been working closely with Airbus to develop and implement mitigation strategies that will ensure continued progress notwithstanding the situation,” she said.

The government receives about 10,000 distress calls a year. Most are handled by the provinces or territories, with police and volunteers tasked with responding. About 750 of the most high-risk calls are answered by the military.

Military search-and-rescue personnel often use their specialized airplanes and helicopters to parachute or rappel into remote areas such as mountains, the high Arctic or one of Canada’s three oceans to respond to plane crashes and sinking ships.

The military considers search-and-rescue a “no-fail mission,” meaning it must be ready around the clock and respond when called upon to help because of the potentially deadly consequences.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canadian Armed ForcesCoronavirusSearch and Rescue

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A victory year for Barriere Blooms

Barriere was blooming this summer. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, residents and businesses… Continue reading

District of Barriere Utilities Manager reports to council on Barriere wells

District of Barriere Utilities Manager Ian Crosson presented a verbal report during… Continue reading

NDP calls snap election, Milobar running for re-election

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced on Monday that he will officially terminate… Continue reading

Citing stability, B.C. Premier calls snap election for Oct. 24

John Horgan meets with Lieutenant Governor to request vote

Williams Lake First Nation inks historic cannabis deal with B.C. government

The agreement paves the way for WLFN to sell cannabis to the government, and open stores across B.C.

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Vancouver Island sailor stranded in U.S. hospital after suffering massive stroke at sea

Oak Bay man was attempting to circumnavigate the world solo

Majority needed to pass COVID-19 budget, B.C. premier says

John Horgan pushes urgent care centres in first campaign stop

Most Read