Nfld. & Labrador

Search and rescue plane replacement taking too long, says Jack Harris

New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris uses the word "disturbing" to describe a media report by Buzzfeed Canada that points to a disproportionate amount of mechanical problems for the aging fleet of Hercules aircraft.

DND defends use of C-130 Hercules fleet

The older model CC-130 Hercules search and rescue aircraft will be replaced in the coming years as part of a new fixed-wing procurement program. (Cpl. Vincent Carbonneau/Canadian Press)

New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris uses the word "disturbing" to describe a media report by Buzzfeed Canada that points to a disproportionate amount of mechanical problems for the aging fleet of Hercules aircraft.

The Canadian military uses 13 older model C-130 Hercules aircraft in a search and rescue role, along with a half-dozen even older Buffalo aircraft based in British Columbia.

The Buzzfeed article revealed the Hercules planes accounted for about four per cent of all flying hours logged by the Royal Canadian Air Force last year, yet were responsible for nearly 13 per cent of all mechanical issues. 

However, Hercules aircraft are safe and reliable, the National Defence department said in an emailed statement.

The statement said, over a five-year period, only 2 per cent of occurrences involving the C-130 Hercules fleet were serious.

Sources in the Buzzfeed article also suggested that Burton Winters, a Labrador teen who died after getting lost on the ocean ice in 2012, could have been saved if the military had better equipment. 

"It is obviously disturbing to see that aircraft that are used for such an important purpose aren't performing as well as other aircraft," Harris said. 

"We know that's obviously a problem."

The Hercules and Buffalo aircraft have been slated for replacement for more than a decade, but the procurement program has been beset by controversy and delays, and allegations that earlier specifications were tailored to fit a specific aircraft.

In March, the federal government released a new request for proposals, asking companies to propose the type and number of aircraft and the number of bases needed to meet the service requirements.

Some sources say the number of aircraft could range from 13 to 17, and it's possible some could be based in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The new fleet of fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft will replace the fleet of six CC-115 Buffalo aircraft and 12 CC-130H Hercules aircraft that are currently being used," the National Defence department statement said.

Harris expects these proposals to be evaluated by this fall, and he's hoping that his call for a 30-minute response time, regardless of the time of day, is included in the new system.

Meanwhile, he blames the governing Conservatives for the delays, calling it a "failure of this government to properly manage the procurement."

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