Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Challenger Challenge: With Jets Grounded, How to Evacuate Injured Troops?

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Challenger Challenge: With Jets Grounded, How to Evacuate Injured Troops?

Article excerpt

Medevac role of VIP jets left up in the air


OTTAWA - With two of Canada's controversial Challenger jets grounded and the fate of two more up in the air, the Canadian military is scrambling to figure out how to fill the fleet's often unheralded role as emergency life-savers.

Two of the aging jets, best known for ferrying around VIPs and government officials, were retired last week by the Conservative government, which used the decision to burnish its fiscal management credentials.

A news release said the estimated $1.5 million in savings per year would be redirected to other "higher operational needs," such as search and rescue.

But internal documents, obtained by The Canadian Press, show that a smaller fleet means the air force may have to use larger, more costly aircraft for important military missions, including medical evacuation.

Absent from Friday's news release from National Defence was the fact that the two jets were due to be retired anyway -- they're old, spare parts are scarce and their outdated avionics prevent them from being flown overseas.

Internal air force memos show two of the remaining four jets are in the same situation and must be decommissioned before the end of the year, leaving just two jets based with 412 Transport Squadron in Ottawa.

The executive jets have long been juicy political targets -- especially for the Conservatives, who railed against their use while in opposition, casting the sleek CC-144s as emblematic of Liberal excess.

Since coming to office in 2006, the Conservatives have repeatedly pointed out how little they use them, but have also been caught out in their own controversies -- notably high-flying trips by both former defence minister Peter MacKay and retired general Walt Natynczyk.

The Conservatives have often said the jets spend more time flying empty just to keep the pilots trained than they do shuttling dignitaries.

But the Challengers also have a much more significant job: transporting wounded and injured troops back to Canada, and helping out with non-combat evacuations and disaster assistance.

The remaining jets will still be reserved for use by the prime minister and Governor General, and can be on stand-by for medical evacuations. …

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