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Training issues prompt Canadian fighter pilots to go to U.S.

July 30, 2014, Ottawa - The Canadian military had to send its fledgling fighter pilots down to the United States because of ongoing problems with training, including a number of aircraft crashes, according to documents obtained by the Citizen.


July 30, 2014
By The Ottawa Citizen

Canadian and foreign fighter pilots were being trained by the NATO
Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program at facilities in Moose Jaw,
Sask., and Cold Lake, Alta.

The Department of National Defence oversees the training, with support services provided by Bombardier.

 

But
in 2011 Bombardier brought in a program to cut its costs, resulting
in changes to the level of training services provided, according to a
January 2012 Canadian military briefing report.

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“Most notable of
these was a reduction in aircraft availability,” then Chief of the
Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk was told in the briefing. “In turn,
this negatively impacted the pilot production capability of NFTC due to
diminished student throughput, which resulted in production delays for
all participating nations.”

 

As a result, the RCAF had to send its
pilot students to an American-sponsored program, according to the
document. That U.S. training ran from 2011 to 2013. It is unclear
whether foreign pilots also had to go to the U.S.

 

Another problem
for the NFTC had to do with the Hawk aircraft that pilots were being
trained on. The life of the aircraft had been drastically reduced
because of stresses on the airframe were greater than expected. In
addition, there were two Hawk crashes, both attributed to engine-related
issues, according to the briefing.

 

“The resultant investigations
and cautious return to flying operations have each had a negative impact
on (pilot) production,” the briefing note added.

 

It was obtained by the Citizen under the access-to-information law.

 

No details were provided on how many pilots were sent to the U.S. and how much that cost Canadian taxpayers.

 

The
NFTC is offered by the Canadian government to NATO and other nations.
Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Singapore and Saudi Arabia have in the past
provided students to the program, according to the military briefing.
Finland, Germany, the U.S., Britain and Canada, among other nations,
provide

instructors.

 

The NFTC contract, valued at $3.5 billion, was awarded to Bombardier in 1998.

 

As
a result of the NFTC problems, the Canadian Forces conducted
negotiations with Bombardier to try to increase service levels. The air
force also “dramatically altered” its production of pilots by revising
the training they received.

 

RCAF spokesman Major James Simiana
said the air force has taken a number of steps to deal with the
situation. After a Hawk crash in Cold Lake in June 2011, the military
imposed a limit of how many flying hours the aircraft engines could be
run, he noted.

 

Since then a key part was redesigned by the company
supplying the engines. “At this time, the Hawk fleet is at full
programed serviceability,” Simiana noted in an email.

 

He also
pointed out that the pilot training course was rewritten in 2012 and
“includes such measures as the optimization of simulation, getting the
best use out of airborne training events to ensure maximum efficiency of
the pilot training pipeline.”

 

Peter Boniface, general manager of
Bombardier military aviation training, said he recently arrived at the
Moose Jaw facility so does not have information on what happened before
with pilots having to go down to the U.S.

 

However, he noted that
issues with the Hawk aircraft engine have now been taken care of. The
stresses on the Hawk airframe, called airframe fatigue, are closely
monitored and are not a safety issue, he added.

 

“Right now the program has been very successful,” said Boniface. “Last year we had a record flying year for the NFTC program.”

 

The RCAF is also looking at a new training program for pilots in the coming years.

 

That
will cost more than $1.5 billion, with bids expected from various
companies sometime in 2018, according to the recently published Defence
Acquisition Guide.

 

“The project must ensure a seamless transition
with existing pilot training programs and an agile and flexible
production level to meet future needs,” the guide noted.

 

A contract would be awarded in 2019, it added.