Weather lore suggests that the month of March can either “come in like a lion and go out like a lamb” or vice versa – and when you apply this statement to the Canadian aviation industry, you might say an entire pride of lions gave its collective “roar” at the end of March.
It’s been a rough ride for the Canadian aviation industry this spring as mismanagement on a number of levels of government – not to mention in some aviation corporations – has dominated headlines from coast to coast.
The federal Conservatives’ bungling of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and its negligence in not revealing the final costs of the project top the list. This political football has sparked the collective ire of thousands of Canadians and has grown into the most controversial aviation story since the cancellation of the Avro Arrow.
And Canadians have a right to be upset. On March 16, I attended a breakfast in Ottawa just before the opening day of the Helicopter Association of Canada’s annual conference at the Westin Ottawa. Associate defence minister Julian Fantino addressed members of the media and the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries (CADSI) and, for the first time, indicated that the feds were in retreat mode over the F-35 project – after months of promises to the contrary and grandstanding by defence minster Peter MacKay.
“All options are on the table,” Fantino said, adding that the Conservatives were planning to handle the replacement of the aging F-18s in a responsible manner.
Auditor general Michael Ferguson’s scathing report released shortly after this meeting confirmed negligence throughout the process, underscoring that the final cost of the 65 jets was never revealed by MacKay – even though cabinet knew the final costs. The Joint Strike Fighter program has been in the works since 1997 with eight other NATO countries – including many Canadian aerospace partners supplying key components to the aircraft – but whether or not Canada follows through on its purchase of aircraft (or how many it will purchase) is very much up in the air.
Mismanagement of an aviation-related issue was also seen at the provincial level in Ontario, where the ongoing fiasco over the province’s medical transport provider, Ornge, came to a head with the release of a report from provincial auditor general Jim McCarter. The troubled Ontario-based medical service has been mired in controversy for months, and McCarter’s report presented a sad commentary on an operation scarred by corporate greed, personal gain and government negligence. Said McCarter: “Ornge is a textbook example of what happens when the government doesn’t get the information it needs to properly do its job.”
The month closed with another significant jolt – and not even Air Canada’s continuing labour strife with its pilots could top this. When finance minister Jim Flaherty presented the new federal budget March 29, it wasn’t good news. Some industry associations tried to present a positive spin, but a 10 per cent reduction in Transport Canada (TC) staff was a big blow to an industry already reeling from a lack of resources at TC.
Said Sam Barone, president of the Canadian Business Aviation Association: “The cuts to key aviation-related departments and agencies such as TC, CATSA and CBSA are a concern. We know that these agencies are already stretched for resources – further reductions may end up affecting their ability to deliver the level of service that our sector requires.”
John McKenna, president of the Air Transport Association of Canada, said, “This will drastically impact the manpower of this department and CATSA and will consequently impact upon the safety, the security and the economic development of the transportation sector.”
Budget cuts, government mismanagement, and corporate strife. Let’s hope the next few months bring more positive times for Canadian aviation – and that the industry, as a whole, can band together to find solutions and weather the storm of leaner times at TC. If the turmoil in March underscores anything, it’s this: fixed-wing operators, more than ever, need to focus on the things they can control – constantly enhancing their own operations and providing the safest operating environment possible for their clients. |