Canadian air force short 275 pilots

Attrition outpaces recruitment and training claims Air Force

The Royal Canadian Air Force is contending with a shortage of around 275 pilots and needs more mechanics, sensor operators and other trained personnel in the face of increasing demands at home and abroad.

The Air Force says it is working to address the deficiencies and that they have not negatively impacted operations, but officials acknowledge the situation has added pressure on Canada’s flying corps and represents a challenge for the foreseeable future.

“Right now we’re doing everything we can to make sure we recruit, train and retain enough personnel to do our current mission,” said Brig.-Gen. Eric Kenny, director general of air readiness.

“In the next 20 years, it’s going to be a challenge to grow the force at the rate that we would like.”

RELATED: KF Aerospace joins Montreal-based company to create in SkyAlyne Canada

The shortfall in pilots and mechanics was referenced in an internal report recently published by the Department of National Defence, which also flagged underspending on maintenance for bases and other infrastructure, as well as reductions in annual flying times thanks to Conservative-era budget cuts.

Some of those issues have since started to be addressed by the Liberals through their new defence policy, but the personnel shortage remains an area of critical concern given the need for pilots and others to fly and maintain the military’s various aircraft fleets at home and abroad.

Those include the planes and helicopters involved in Canada’s military missions in Iraq, Latvia, Mali, and Ukraine; domestic search-and-rescue aircraft; and the CF-18 fighter jets deployed in Romania and guarding against a foreign attack on North America.

The Air Force is authorized to have 1,580 pilots, but Kenny said in an interview the Air Force is short by around 17 per cent — or about 275 pilots — along with similar shortfalls for navigators and sensor operators, who work onboard different types of aircraft, as well as mechanics.

Kenny also acknowledged the threat of burnout as service members are forced to pick up the slack left by unfilled positions, and the added burden of promised new drones, fighter jets and other aircraft arriving in the coming years, which will require even more people to fly and maintain.

Efforts to address the shortfalls have looked at retaining service members with tax breaks, additional support and services for family members to ease military life, and plans to free up experienced personnel by assigning administrative staff to do day-to-day tasks.

Several initiatives have also been introduced to speed up recruitment and training, and attract older pilots back into the Forces, which has borne some fruit and aimed at buying time for officials to decide whether to change the length of time pilots and others are required to serve before they can leave.

RELATED: Federal government announces over $115 million to Royal Canadian Navy

“This is beyond just looking at benefits,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Tuesday. ”We’re looking at a much more holistic approach in how we look after them.”

But the current training system means the Air Force can only produce 115 new pilots each year, which commanders have said is insufficient to meet needs given the rate at which military pilots have moved on to commercial opportunities in recent years.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan suggested one reason the military is losing pilots is because they are being asked to fly older planes, including CF-18 fighter jets that are close to 40 years old.

“If pilots aren’t getting new aircraft, why are they sticking around?” Bezan said.

“And so, the idea of bringing in used fighter jets from Australia that are even in worse shape than the current CF-18s that we fly today, why would they stick around?”

The Department of National Defence is drawing up plans for a new system that officials hope will be in place by 2021 and include the ability to expand or shrink the number of trainees in any year given the Air Force’s needs.

Kenny said the shortfalls will remain a challenge since the current system will remain in place for several more years — and because it takes four and eight years to train a pilot from scratch.

“We know what capabilities we’re receiving and now we can start working to make sure that we have personnel that are trained to be able to meet those requirements,” he said.

“But I’m not going to lie: It’s definitely a challenge.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

YVR wants rapid transit connections to Surrey, White Rock improved

In Transport 2050 report, airport authority states it would like to see Canada Line extended to the south

VIDEO: Tsumura Basketball Invitational begins at the Langley Events Centre

Top teams clash in event billed as preview of provincials

Surrey MP calls for referendum on city’s plan to set up its own police force

Ken Hardie says city should hold referendum on plan to replace the RCMP, given new information that’s come to light

Families play in ‘UFO Ho-Ho!’ at Surrey theatre that faces uncertain future

City budgets $500K to help Surrey Little Theatre relocate, if and when street is widened

MAP: Christmas light displays in Surrey and beyond

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

Half of shoppers say they have no holiday spending budget

B.C. consumers surveyed estimate they will spend $921 this season

University of the Fraser Valley union demands free menstrual products for staff, students

Petition calls it a human rights issue, asks for products at Chilliwack/Abbotsford campus washrooms

Man killed in crash due to ‘absolutely treacherous’ conditions on Coquihalla

Winter means icy roads are dangerous and drivers should be careful, RCMP say

Bag of cocaine left in B.C. grocery store aisle

RCMP: ‘We sure would like to talk to’ person who left drugs behind

Former Burns Lake mayor gets two years for sexual assaults against minors

The Crown is seeking four to six years federal time; the defence wants 18 months in provincial jail

RCMP officer was justified using hose in rooftop standoff: B.C. watchdog

Police watchdog finds officers actions reasonable when man injured in 2018 incident

Cannabis ice cream? Province prepares for B.C. Bud edibles

Mike Farnworth’s special police unit takes down dispensaries

Union for parole officers at B.C. halfway house says public safety at risk

Increase in parole officers’ workload dealing with highest-risk offenders raises concern

Most Read