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Air-traffic control changes in U.S., Europe may force Ottawa to buy new executive jets

CTV National News: The state of Canada’s VIP jets Two of the four planes used for VIP travel will soon face restrictions on where they can fly. Glen McGregor has the exclusive details.

Glen McGregor, Senior Political Correspondent, CTV National News
Published Sunday, November 3, 2019

OTTAWA — The federal government could be forced to buy new executive jets to transport the prime minister and other VIPs because of changes to air-traffic control rules in the U.S. and Europe.

Two of the four Challenger jets currently used by the Canadian Forces for executive transport lack the equipment needed to comply with the new ADS-B system, which replaces radar-based air-traffic control with the transmission of GPS-based data.

That will curtail the aircraft’s ability to fly in the U.S. and Europe beginning next year.

Two of the four Challenger jets currently used by the Canadian Forces for executive transport lack the equipment needed to comply with the new ADS-B system, which replaces radar-based air-traffic control with the transmission of GPS-based data.

One of the federal government’s Challenger jets is seen in this file image.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has set Jan. 1, 2020, as the date aircraft will require ADS-B transmitters to operate legally in most airspace. Europe is implementing the system in June 2020.

It doesn’t make sense to install the equipment on two of older 1980s-era Challenger 601 jets flown by 412 Squadron, the defence department says.

“Given the age of the fleet, investing in an ADS-B modification/upgrade would not be cost effective,” the department said in an email.

“We are therefore looking at other mitigation options. Timelines and costs will be determined once options have been selected.”

Buying new executive jets to replace the aging Challengers could be politically risky for the Trudeau government when it still hasn’t acquired fighter jets to replace the aging fleet of CF-18s.

Opposition parties of all stripes have assailed governments for what they considered profligate use of government aircraft in the past.

“The executive fleet has been perennial issue where the country is penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said David Perry, a defence procurement expert with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“We don’t want to spend the money to buy aircraft and we have this bizarre expectation where you’re taking the people in government whose time is most valuable and making them fly economy, basically, around the world.”

The continued use of older aircraft makes Candians look like “cheapskates,” he said, comparing political opposition to the planes with the government’s refusal to renovate 24 Sussex, the prime minister’s official residence.

The defence department projects spending between and $20 million and $49 million to “consolidate” the Challenger fleet, a figure likely based on acquiring used aircraft.

Sources familiar with the operation of 412 Squadron say it would be difficult to meet its mandate with only two aircraft available to travel outside the country. The jets are used to transport the prime minister and Governor General and cabinet ministers, as well as the chief of defence staff, and visiting members of the Royal Family.

But the jets are also on-call for medical evacuations, deploying advance teams with the Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART) and, on occasion, covertly transporting Canadian special forces personnel.

With only four Challengers, the squadron is operating close to capacity and losing two aircraft could threaten its ability to perform these missions, the sources said.

If the government chose to acquire brand-new aircraft, it might be tempted to consider the Bombardier Global Express, which is faster and has a longer range than the smaller Challenger, making travel to Europe and Asia easier. Most of the aircraft is assembled in Canada.

The German government currently uses four of Bombardier’s Global 5000 jets for executive transport.

Other documents show DND is projecting spending up to $249 million to extend the lifespan of the five larger Airbus 300-series jets beyond 2026, including one that prime minister and his staff fly on occasion.

Once dubbed “the flying Taj Mahal” by then-opposition leader Jean Chretien, the Airbus is antiquated compared to most modern commercial aircraft, though it does have a private room for the prime minister to sleep in.

Flight crews on the Airbus run extension cords and power bars down the aisles to allow passengers to run their laptop computers.

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There's a pettiness in our politics that leaves us with a 24 Sussex Drive that is empty and should be either renovated or replaced, old jets when new ones would, in the long run be cheaper to operate

I have seen a long in the tooth Boeing 727 refit with modern avionics and systems simply because the aircraft was still viable and the modifications were cheaper than buing a new aircraft, spares, tra

That's not where I would like to see our Prime Minister.

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It is an excuse.  the Challenger 601 is still a viable airframe.  Take them oout of service and contract one of the Big MRO companies to redo the aircraft and upgrade the systems.  It would cost a couple of million but thats cheap compared to 50M + for a new airframe.

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I have seen a long in the tooth Boeing 727 refit with modern avionics and systems simply because the aircraft was still viable and the modifications were cheaper than buing a new aircraft, spares, training etc. etc.

Canada manufactures some of the best Business aircraft on the market.  I have see many delivered to different governments around the world.  I personally think the executive fleet should represent the best Canada has to offer.  Perhaps a Global 7000 or the like.  Long range, large aircraft, Canadian Made.

The Challenger is still a good aircraft but to represent Canada is something cutting edge would be better.

 

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4 hours ago, dagger said:

Almost anything new or of a more recent vintage would be more fuel efficient that these old Challengers, also the A310s.

 

 

I suspect the question of fuel efficiency will be the last thing that will be considered.  Likely the  prestige factor will drive any decision

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36 minutes ago, Marshall said:

I suspect the question of fuel efficiency will be the last thing that will be considered.  Likely the  prestige factor will drive any decision

Oh come on, in this day and age fuel efficiency  - and it's link to emissions - will be the compelling argument in favour of fleet renewal, as it is, in good measure, for the airlines. 

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26 minutes ago, dagger said:

Oh come on, in this day and age fuel efficiency  - and it's link to emissions - will be the compelling argument in favour of fleet renewal, as it is, in good measure, for the airlines. 

The fleet consists of only 4 aircraft (yes I am ignoring the Airbus aircraft) so fuel efficiency will not be very important ant in the scheme of things.  If fuel efficiency was indeed a factor, then a lot of travel currently done by the Challengers would done by commercial aircraft.(except of course travel by the GG and the PM)  

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RCAF wants Ottawa to buy two used jets for the VIP fleet

Replacing two of the older Challengers that ferry the PM around the world could cost $12-18M

 
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Chris Rands · CBC News · Posted: Apr 27, 2018 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: April 27, 2018
 
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As Mount Etna - Europe's highest active volcano - spews smoke in the background, Tom Makris of Transport Canada works on a Canadian Forces (CF) CT-144 Challenger jet during a . (Sgt Frank Hudec/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)
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The Royal Canadian Air Force is recommending that the government buy used aircraft to replace two of the planes in its aging VIP fleet, at a possible cost of $12 million to $18 million, CBC News has learned.

The prime minister and Governor General are not allowed to fly on commercial aircraft for security reasons. They use the RCAF's Challenger jets for most of their air travel.

 

The RCAF has flown Bombardier's Challenger business jets since the early 1980s for VIP transport and other special missions, including medical evacuations, disaster relief assessments and national security operations.

Only four aircraft remain in the fleet: two 1980s-era Challenger 601 models and two of the more modern Challenger 604 models purchased in 2002. Two older Challengers were retired from the Air Force in 2014.

The recommendation to buy used aircraft is part of a July, 2016 RCAF study, prepared for the commander of the Air Force and released to CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

Cost estimates for replacement aircraft were deleted from CBC's copy of the report. A search of used aircraft websites show that several Bombardier 604s with comparable flight hours are available for roughly $6 million to $9 million each.

A brand-new Challenger 650 model can be purchased from the factory in Montreal for just over $32 million (the price can fluctuate depending on the buyer's choice of interior options).

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RCAF Challengers have transported Prime Ministers since the 1980s

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One of the old Challengers is painted black while the newer aircraft are painted white with a red stripe 1:40

Half of the planes in the RCAF's VIP Challenger fleet are too old to be flown in some areas of the world.

"As new airspace regulations come into effect," the report says, "the CC144 fleet is becoming less operationally effective. In order to respond to expanding operational restrictions a number of avionics upgrades are required ..."

The report says the manufacturer, Bombardier, doesn't support upgrades to the cockpit instruments in the two older 601 models, and having the instruments replaced elsewhere "would be cost-prohibitive because no economically viable solution currently exists."

But the RCAF continues to fly the two Challenger 601s as it searches for a way to get replacement aircraft approved by the government.

The report doesn't look at the option of buying aircraft from another manufacturer. It says buying two used Challenger 604s would "fall within the current budget, and many used CL604 aircraft are available for purchase.

 
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Then-prime minister Stephen Harper's security staffers look over the Challenger jet during his arrival at the Shell Aerocentre during his Western tour in North Saanich, B.C., Tuesday, January 7, 2014. (Canadian Press)

"This option consolidates the fleet to one aircraft type. Cost savings in the form of avionics upgrades, sparing and crew/maintenance training could be realized."

Right now, the Challenger fleet uses two different types of engines. The cockpits in the older aircraft feature analogue instruments, while the newer aircraft use digital instrumentation.

The report ruled out the option of leasing four new aircraft, stating that the cost of retrofitting them to suit the RCAF's needs — and then converting them back again at the end of the lease — would wipe out any cost savings.

Buying two new aircraft would break the fleet's budget. And the Challenger 604 has since been replaced with a much newer version by Bombardier, so its parts would not be interchangeable with those in the older aircraft.

The report mentions the possibility of a public-private partnership to modernize the fleet but the affordability of such a venture appears to have been redacted from the CBC's copy. Bombardier refused to comment on such a partnership, citing competitive reasons.

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Sajjan says RCAF is looking at options to replace Challengers

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Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan spoke with the CBC's Chris Rands 1:41

Asked about plans to replace the Challengers, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told CBC News the RCAF is working on "various options."

"And when I have those options I'll be able to present that to Canadians," he said.

 

RCAF policy is to have at least two aircraft in the Challenger fleet flight-ready at all times, so the other two can undergo maintenance or be used for training.

Typically, the prime minister and the Governor General use the newer Challengers while the older models are used by the Canadian Forces for medical evacuations and for trips that can't be completed by flying commercial.

Opposition defence critic James Bezan said he learned about the fleet's shortcomings firsthand in June 2016, when he and Sajjan shared a flight to Berlin — a flight which required two refuelling stops.

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Conservatives call for Challengers to be replaced

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Defence Critic James Bezan speaks with the CBC's Chris Rands 1:06

"First of all, they are not very comfortable," he said. "Secondly, this plane, because of the old aeronautical system, had to fly under 10,000 feet all the way across the Atlantic, burned a lot more fuel in the process and required more stops."

New international civil aviation rules force the older Challengers to fly at lower altitudes, drastically reducing their range without refuelling.

Spending money on VIP aircraft is a politically challenging decision for any government. When Jean Chretien bought two Challengers in 2002 to refresh the fleet, the government released the news just before Good Friday to reduce its impact.

"They need to make a hard decision," said Bezan, "Kicking the can is not the answer and that's what it looks like the Liberals are going to do."

However, Bezan wouldn't say if the Conservatives would support replacing all or part of the Challenger fleet.

"Let's see what they come up with and see if they actually make a decision, because they haven't done one yet."

NDP MP Matthew Dube said he supports buying new Challengers instead of purchasing used jets that could wear out faster than expected — as long as they're bought through an open and transparent process.

"The price tag is acceptable, provided that the process leading to the use of that money is one that is appropriate for taxpayers," he told CBC News.

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"First of all, they are not very comfortable," he said. "Secondly, this plane, because of the old aeronautical system, had to fly under 10,000 feet all the way across the Atlantic, burned a lot more fuel in the process and required more stops."

UMM...NOT RVSM?  The 601 or the 604 should both be certified RVSM.  If there was a FL restriction to 10,000 feet then they probably should have taken another plane

 

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13 hours ago, Tango Foxtrot said:

Get real.  Buy brand new state of the art aircraft.  Fly the flag. 

Enough crap.

I want to see our Prime Minister in a Cseries. 

That's not where I would like to see our Prime Minister.

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When you think about it.  For all the money the government gave to Bombardier / Canadair over the years, They should be giving the government 2 brand new aircraft.

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15 hours ago, boestar said:

When you think about it.  For all the money the government gave to Bombardier / Canadair over the years, They should be giving the government 2 brand new aircraft.

Actually, this Liberal government did a fabulous job regarding this corporate welfare collecting company. During the last round of neediness from Bombardier, the Fed loaned them a fully repayable loan instead of giving them subsidies. (The Fed wanted a change in the management structure before any money was given).

I only wish the Quebec provincial government could have taken the same route...

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On 11/8/2019 at 6:55 AM, dagger said:

There's a pettiness in our politics that leaves us with a 24 Sussex Drive that is empty and should be either renovated or replaced, old jets when new ones would, in the long run be cheaper to operate or maintain, etc. Why not just get a bipartisan committee together and settle these issues. It's not terribly difficult. They can solicit expert opinions, and move all these files forward. We're not talking billions of dollars here. For an economy Canada's size, coming up with a nice but not extravagant residence for the PM can't be hard. And just replace those old challengers with new jets with longer range so the A310s don't have to fly politicians around except for the largest state visits abroad.

Would ego's allow Overseas travel in small jets?   

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