New aircraft expected to fix Canada's transport plane woes

The government in July signed a $3.6-billion deal to purchase nine aircrafts to replace Canada’s aging fleet

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As Canada’s prime minister wraps up a busy summer racking up mileage on government aircraft, the Royal Canadian Air Force is potentially just weeks away from introducing new transport aircraft that promises to make overseas VIP flights faster and easier.

Publicly available data from online fight trackers list CANFORCE ONE taking to the skies 42 times between the time the House rose for the summer on June 22, and the beginning of the fall sitting on Sept. 18 — logging 87,821 km.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most common trip was the 360 kilometre hop between Ottawa and Toronto, which he embarked upon seven times over the summer.

Toronto was the destination of the Trudeau’s most recent trips — a flight Tuesday to take part in a 35-minute talk at an auto parts convention, and a pair of photo opportunities on Friday.

The prime minister embarked on three overseas trips this summer, kicking off June 25 with a three-day visit to Iceland for a meeting of the Nordic prime ministers.

That was followed a few weeks later with a four-day visit to Latvia and Lithuania from July 9 to 13, meeting with military leaders and to take part in a NATO summit.

The third overseas trip was Trudeau’s visit to Indonesia, Singapore and India earlier this month, which saw the prime minister’s aircraft — a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris — stranded for days in Delhi due to a mechanical breakdown, prompting officials to dispatch a rescue plane carrying technicians and spare parts.

By policy, Canada’s prime ministers are prohibited from flying commercially.

The prime minister relies upon a fleet of Bombardier Challenger 650 business jets operated by 412 Transport Squadron out of Ottawa airport for domestic flights.

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For overseas trips involving large delegations or press attendance, travel is accommodated by a fleet of problematic CC-150 Polaris transport aircraft, handled by 437 Transport Squadron based at CFB Trenton.

While the Polaris — Canada’s long-lived transport and air-to-air refuelling platform — is well past obsolescence, a replacement program is just about to get underway.

In July, the RCAF signed a $3.6-billion agreement with Airbus to both acquire four new A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft, and convert five used A330-200 airliners for dual transport-refuelling capability.

Canada will designate the nine new aircraft as the CC-330 Husky.

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These planes will replace the air force’s aging transport fleet, consisting of five CC-150 Polaris aircraft — military conversions of the venerable (and now obsolete) Airbus A310 airliner.

Canada’s Polaris fleet were originally civilian airliners for Wardair, and sold to the RCAF in the early ’90s after the now-defunct carrier was absorbed into Canadian Airlines.

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The RCAF purchased two used A330-200 aircraft last July for $138 million.

One of those aircraft, 330002, arrived in Canada earlier this month and is expected to enter service later this fall as Canada’s primary executive transport aircraft for the prime minister and Governor General.

The second Husky, currently undergoing maintenance and painting, is expected to be delivered in December and enter service soon after.

The new planes have a 13,900 km range, according to the RCAF — compared to the Polaris’ 9,600 km range — and can also fly higher and faster.

At the same time the RCAF was entering into its agreement with Airbus, Canada purchased three additional used A330-200s for $203 million, with delivery expected in 2024.

Upon delivery, those aircraft will be used for cargo, troop and passenger operations.

“This could include the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces troops within Canada or overseas, and the movement of civilian passengers in support of humanitarian relief operations and strategic Government of Canada transport, including transport of the Prime Minister, Governor General, and others,” said a statement from the Department of National Defence.

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In time, the used aircraft will be converted by Airbus into air-to-air refuelling tankers.

Under Canada’s Strategic Tanker Transport Capability project, tanker-configured Huskies will support Canadian and allied missions to fulfil obligations under Norad, and are capable of keeping six CF-18s fully fuelled during a transatlantic crossing.

Ottawa-based research consultant Steffan Watkins said that, considering the current state of the Polaris fleet, the new planes can’t arrive quickly enough.

“The most important feature of CC-330 Husky 330002 is that it works,” he said.

“It can carry more people farther, but right now anything is better than a deteriorating Airbus 310-based fleet that is spending a lot of time under maintenance.”

Earlier this month, Polaris 15001 — the plane primarily used by prime ministers travelling abroad — suffered a mechanical breakdown, stranding Canada’s G20 summit delegation in Delhi for days.

Polaris 15002, the rescue plane dispatched by air force officials to repair that stricken aircraft, is one of only two planes in the fleet currently operational.

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15001, Watkins said, has sat idle at CFB Trenton and hasn’t flown since arriving home from India two weeks ago.

That same plane spent months undergoing repairs in 2019 after it rolled away from crews at CFB Trenton and collided nose-first into a wall.

Polaris 15003 has been marooned at an American air force base in Guam since July after colliding with another plane.

RCAF CC-150 Polaris 15003, after rolling away and colliding with a French Air Force plane at Anderson AFB in Guam in July 2023.
RCAF CC-150 Polaris 15003, after rolling away and colliding with a French Air Force plane at Anderson AFB in Guam in July 2023. RCAF photo

According to an official occurrence summary, 15003 — participating in a joint exercise organized by the USAF Air Mobility Command — rolled into a French Air Force A400M after being parked insecurely with unchocked wheels the previous evening.

The collision tore a deep gash into 15003’s vertical stabilizer and rudder, nearly severing it.

While some observers believe the plane is beyond repair and may be scrapped in situ, the DND says a final decision on 15003’s fate has yet to be determined.

“The final investigation into this matter is currently ongoing. (A) flight safety investigation report will be produced and released after its conclusion,” read a statement from defence spokesperson Andrew McKelvey.

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“As for the aircraft itself, a course of action is still being determined.”

15004 has been laid up in Montreal for three weeks, most likely for maintenance, Watkins said, and 15005 is busy refuelling Canadian fighter jets taking part in an exercise in the U.K.

Franco Terrazzano, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the government has its work cut out for them keeping the project’s costs under control.

“The feds seem to have a hard time parking a plane, so how are they going to make sure the costs don’t run away on taxpayers?” he said.

“Time and time again, we’ve seen big procurement budgets balloon, so the feds must make sure there are guardrails in place to keep taxpayers from paying an even bigger bill.”

This is the second big aviation deal penned by Canada this year.

In January, Canada finalized an estimated $70-billion deal to purchase 88 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, replacements for the aging CF-18 fleet.

The RCAF is expected to take delivery of their first four jets in 2026.

• Email: bpassifiume@postmedia.com | X: @bryanpassifiume

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