Nfld. & Labrador

Gander wants military search and rescue aircraft

Central Newfoundland officials are calling for new Canadian military fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft to be based in Gander.

Fixed-wing planes in central Newfoundland would improve rescue times, report says

Canadian Forces search and rescue technicians board a C-115 Buffalo before participating in a search and rescue exercise in Whitehorse in September 2010. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

Central Newfoundland officials are calling for new Canadian military fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft to be based in Gander.

The Harper government may be ready to deliver on its long-standing promise to buy new search and rescue planes for the air force.

The procurement plan, stuck in bureaucratic limbo for almost a decade, was approved by the federal cabinet just before Christmas and with a slightly bigger budget of $3.7 billion, according to defence sources.

Canadian Forces search and rescue planes currently operate out of Greenwood, N.S.

Three military search and rescue Cormorant helicopters are now based in Gander.

Armed with a 2010 National Research Council report that concluded rescue response times would improve if a plane were stationed in Gander, Deputy Mayor Zane Tucker said the town may be closer to getting something local officials have been fighting to obtain for years.

"It's the only splintered base where the helicopters are here and the planes are in Nova Scotia," he said.

Defence sources said Ottawa has signed off on a promise to buy new search and rescue planes.

"Fixed wing does belong in Gander and now we know the money is put behind the project and it's signed off by cabinet and hopefully they do follow the logical decision and put the fixed wing component here in Gander," said Tucker.

The 2010 NRC report says "the existing bases of Greenwood, Trenton, Winnipeg and Comox do not represent the best option for SAR response. In particular, basing aircraft in Gander rather than Greenwood would have had a significant positive impact."

Federal Liberals approved plan

Initially given the green light by Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal government in late 2003, the program is meant to replace the aging twin-engine C-115 Buffalos and older-model four-engine C-130 Hercules transports.

When the plan was reannounced by the Conservatives almost six years ago, the budget was estimated at $3.1 billion.

The Defence Department is expected to hold a so-called industry day in the next few weeks to brief potential bidders on what kind of plane is needed by the air force.

That is expected to be followed by an open competition later this year with the aim of delivering the new planes by 2015.

With files from The Canadian Press