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

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 member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

Starting in June, Government Street will be closed to most vehicles between Humboldt and View streets. A section of Government Street was transformed into a pedestrian-priority walkway in the wake of COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria plans 10-hour closures of Government Street come June

City’s business relief plan extended, Government St. from Humboldt to View closed noon to 10 p.m.

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

While Buccaneer Days public events are cancelled again, such as the annual parade, a home and business decorating contest will allow the spirit of the event to live on. (Facebook)
Esquimalt Buccaneer Days COVID-19 cannon fodder again

Annual celebration cancelled a second time, decorating contest full steam ahead

Police are looking for this suspect after a man was stabbed on Pandora Avenue Tuesday night. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Police seek suspect in Victoria stabbing

The stabbing took place in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, just before 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read