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F-35 Decision Back To Harper

Government departments have finished their reports on fighter options for the RCAF.
Government departments have finished their reports on fighter options for the RCAF.

The Harper government now has all the information it has asked for to make a decision on how to move forward with acquiring new fighter jets for the RCAF.

The RCAF has finished a comprehensive report comparing the costs and capabilities of the Lockheed Martin F-35 and its rivals, the Eurofighter, FA/18 Super Hornet  and Dassault Rafale, effectively putting the issue of how to proceed back in the laps of the government.

The F-35 was the presumed successor to the current CF-18s through Canada’s participation in a nine-nation development partnership. But a scathing report on the true cost of the program from Auditor General Michael Ferguson (whose numbers have been disputed and questioned) created a political firestorm that caused the government to take the procurement away from the military and put the F-35 purchase on hold.

The Ministry of Public Works is now overseeing the procurement and recently submitted its market analysis to the Harper government.

With a federal election coming next October, there is widespread speculation the government will sit on the information and wait until after the vote to make a decision.

The options include going ahead with the F-35 process or beginning an open bidding process that will allow the other manufacturers to formally make their cases.

The timeline is getting tight, however. If Canada doesn’t order its first batch of F-35s next year, the delivery date will slip to beyond 2018, several months after the RCAF wanted to begin retiring the CF-18s. Without an expensive life extension process, the Hornets have to be retired by 2020 when their airframes time out.

If it wants to maintain the 2018 delivery schedule, Canada has to start paying for the aircraft next year, in the midst of the campaign.

Meanwhile, the aircraft has accumulated 15,000 hours of flight time and Lockheed Martin has announced it will be taking the aircraft outside the U.S. for the first time to perform at air shows in England, including Farnborough.


McLeod Salvages Fourth in Rovinj

Pete McLeod hits a pylon during racing at Rovinj. Photo by Samo Vidic
Pete McLeod hits a pylon during racing at Rovinj.
Photo by Samo Vidic

Canadian Red Bull Air Race competitor Pete McLeod says he was lucky to salvage a fourth place finish out of last weekend’s race in Rovinj, Croatia.

The London, Ont. native said clipping a pylon in the qualifying round should have kept him out of the running on Sunday but because four other racers had done the same before he did, he earned a back-door spot in the next round which then led to his Final Four appearance.

The finish, coming on the heels of his third-place finish in the first race of the season at Abu Dhabi, earned him five points and kept him in third place overall in the standings. Hannes Arch, of Austria, was first and Paul Bonhomme of the U.K. was second. Yoshihide Muroya, of Japan, got his first podium finish with a third place performance.

McLeod said he was suffering from a sinus problem heading into the race but said he also had trouble getting into the groove in Rovinj.

“I’m satisfied with the points – it’s more than I could have hoped for with my performance,” said McLeod on his Web site. “I just wasn’t feeling things [Sunday]. I was fighting the airplane, not feeling well, and it showed in the track. I was surprised by my first flight. I almost hit five pylons before I hit that one pylon. So it was a mess out there.”

McLeod will have a month to regroup before the race series heads to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 17-18.

First Air Fires Wayward Pilots

First Air has fired two pilots who went off course on a routine flight March 31.

First Air has fired two pilots who went off course on a routine flight March 31.

First Air said Thursday it dismissed pilots who got lost on a routine flight from Rankin Inlet to Iqualuit last month.

The unidentified pilots flying a Boeing 737-200 wandered 225 km off course before being notified of the error and turning south for an uneventful landing at Iqualuit.

The airline said in a statement that the pilots were initially suspended with pay but subsequent investigation determined they violated airline navigation procedures.

“During the interviews, we learned the pilots did not follow our standard operating procedures designed to eliminate navigational errors,” First Air said in an April 10 release. “As a result, those pilots are no longer employees of First Air.”

The company did not describe the circumstances or nature of the procedural gap but it did say its pilots and dispatchers have been briefed on the mishap the airline has “reinforced the procedures with all crew and dispatch staff.”

The aircraft left Rankin Inlet March 31 with 19 passengers and four crew and was using GPS navigation on autopilot.

According to an Transportation Safety Board incident report, the crew was unaware it was off course.

“A Boeing 737-200, C-GNDE, operated by First Air as flight FAB955, was cruising en route when the crew was advised by another flight that air traffic control was trying to contact them,” the incident report said. “The crew contacted ATC and determined they were north of course about 225 nm northwest of Iqaluit. The flight turned toward Iqaluit and landed without further incident.”

The airline “has gone to great lengths to update and strengthen our standard operating procedures” and it was clear from interviews with the flight crew that those procedures weren’t followed.

The incident comes two weeks after a Transportation Safety Board investigation into a 2011 crash by a First Air 737 indicated cockpit confusion led to the aircraft missing Resolute Airport. Twelve people, including both pilots, died in that crash.

The Airline Pilots Association is protesting the firing of the crew in the most recent incident, saying a more complete investigation is warranted.

“This rush to judgment has unfairly called into question the expertise and professionalism of a crew with more than 40 years of combined flight experience,” union rep Peter Black said. ”We will use all of the union’s resources to investigate this incident and support the crew.”

Air North, First Air May Merge

First Air and Air North are in merger talks.
First Air and Air North are in merger talks.

The North’s two largest airlines, First Air and Air North, have entered into discussions for a “merger of equals.”

The merger would create an airline that covers the entire Arctic with connecting flights to southern destinations from Vancouver to Montreal.

“The potential merger is intended to create a single airline entity that builds on the strengths and identities of the two companies,” the airlines said in a joint statement. “A merger would improve the sustainability of these critical Inuit birthright enterprises and would also create better air services and new economic development opportunities across the north.”

Both airlines are owned by Inuit companies and maintain vital transportation links to far-flung northern communities.

The airlines’ statement said the two companies will continue to operate independently and without any changes until a merger is complete. Updates will be released at the merger Web site


Garage Sale Ends Arctic Air

Arctic Air cast and crew posed for a farewell photo at a hangar at YVR.
Arctic Air cast and crew posed for a farewell photo at a hangar at YVR.

After three years in prime time, the CBC series Arctic Air ended its run with a season finale April 9 but fans had the chance to take home lasting memories of the show.

The show’s production company, Vancouver-based Omnifilm, held a giant garage sale in an elementary school in nearby Aldergrove selling everything from native clothing and art to mockups of a Cessna 152, Cessna 310 and a Bell 206 helicopter.

It takes a lot of gear to make an action adventure series like Arctic Air and the items on sale filled the school gymnasium.

Arctic Air was cancelled by the CBC on March 17, not long after the network lost Hockey Night in Canada to Shaw. The moneymaking hockey broadcasts subsidized much of the network’s original programming.

Arctic Air followed the exploits of a fictional airline based in Yellowknife and the perilous missions it undertook. The series starred Adam Beach and Pascale Hutton.