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

Parksville residents hear compelling tales from recovering young addicts

Speakers emphasize need for detox and treatment centre, shelter in the area

REVIEW: ‘Grace and Glorie’ a moving tale of death and friendship

Two women convey characters convincingly and with humour

Jordie Lunn, world-renowned mountain biker from Parksville, dies in accident

The 36-year-old was with friends trail riding in Cabo San Lucas when the accident happened

Island man restores 1962 Qualicum Beach fire truck he bought for $1

Vintage vehicle in working order and ready to hit the road

B.C.’s rural paramedic program expands, with home support

Advanced care ambulance staff added for six communities

BC Ferries sees steady traffic of post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Ferries filling up fast, sailing waits at some terminals

Canadian Snowbirds plane crashes before air show in Atlanta

Pilot lands safely after ejecting from jet

Singh says NDP would form coalition with the Liberals to stop Tories

Singh was in a Liberal-held riding Sunday afternoon in Surrey where he was pressed about his post-election intentions

‘My heart goes out to the mother’: B.C. dad reacts to stabbing death of Ontario boy

Carson Crimeni, who was also 14, was bullied relentlessly, his dad says

BC Ferries filling up fast with post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Monday anticipated to be busiest day of the weekend

‘Save the kids!’ Dorian survivor tells the harrowing story of his Canadian wife’s death

Family held a funeral and placed Alishia Liolli’s remains in a niche at a cemetery in Windsor, Ont.

Okanagan woman, 91, votes at advance polls despite broken hip, shoulder and wrist

Angela Maynard has voted in almost every election during her lifetime

Heiltsuk Nation open first Big House in 120 years in northern B.C.

Opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events

Most Read