Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Military Helicopters, Planes and Ships Face Big Delays: Budget Documents: F-35s Not the Only Purchase Behind Schedule

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Military Helicopters, Planes and Ships Face Big Delays: Budget Documents: F-35s Not the Only Purchase Behind Schedule

Article excerpt

OTTAWA - A shortage of trained pilots means it will take the Royal Canadian Air Force an extra two years to get its long-awaited Chinook helicopters into full service, say documents tabled as part of the latest federal budget.

The revelation in the plans and priorities section of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's March 29 budget also outlines delays in a string of other big-ticket equipment purchases at National Defence.

It comes as military procurement is under the microscope because of the politically charged F-35 project.

Originally ordered as part of sole-source contract with Boeing aircraft in 2006, the first Chinook is supposed to arrive next month, but it will be a test aircraft only.

The shortage of pilots is expected to delay bringing the Chinooks up to full combat capability until June 2017.

The helicopters were considered an absolute priority for the now-concluded combat mission in Afghanistan, but delays in buying the 15 new aircraft forced the Conservative government to spend nearly $300 million on six used Chinooks from the U.S. Army.

The surviving four helicopters from that batch, at last word, are up for sale and sitting at a military aircraft junkyard outside of Tucson, Ariz.

The pilot shortage is a matter of growing concern, to the point where the chief of the air staff recently told a Senate committee that Royal Air Force pilots were being imported to Canada to help with training.

The Defence Department was asked for facts and figures on the shortage and what happened to the pilots who flew the Chinooks in Afghanistan, but no one was immediately available to comment.

How much of the delays are related to the Harper government's deficit battle and what can be attributed to procurement snarls is unclear.

Another aircraft purchase that remains in limbo involves replacements for the country's fixed-wing, search-and-rescue fleet. …

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