Politics

Federal government moves to update search and rescue helicopters

The federal government is planning to refurbish and augment the Canadian air force’s fleet of search and rescue helicopters.

In 2013, auditor general found DND did not have enough or the right kind of search and rescue choppers

A Royal Canadian Air Force Cormorant helicopter from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron based at 9 Wing Gander takes off from the airport in Deer Lake, N.L., on Dec. 1, 2015. Public Works and Procurement Services released a two-step plan on Thursday that will see the existing CH-149 Cormorant choppers modernized. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The federal government plans to refurbish and augment the Canadian air force's fleet of search and rescue helicopters.

Public Services and Procurement Canada released a two-step plan on Thursday that will see the existing CH-149 Cormorant choppers modernized. 

The second phase involves the addition of seven helicopters either by purchasing new brand aircraft, or possibly taking spare airframes and converting them to full-fledged choppers.

The government posted what is known as a letter of notification on its tendering website. 

It says it intends to work with the original manufacturer of the Cormorant, the Italian aircraft maker Leonardo. The notice, however, says no decision has been made about whether to award a sole-source contract. 

A preliminary analysis has concluded, though, that Canada should stick with the Cormorant for search and rescue and keep the fleet in service until 2040, the notice said. 

Several years ago, the former Conservative government authorized the $164 million purchase of helicopters that had been earmarked to replace the U.S. presidential fleet until the program was cancelled by the Obama administration for being too costly. 

No costs or timelines announced

The VH-71s were not completed and bought strictly to be used to get spare parts for the Cormorant. 

Five years ago, former defence minister Peter MacKay ordered a review to determine whether the choppers could be made into fully operational aircraft. 

Both the air force and the purchasing branch of National Defence resisted the plan, saying the former presidential helicopters were suitable only for spares because the aircraft had no airworthiness certificate and would need a full electronics suite for search and rescue. 

A Canadian CH-149 Cormorant helicopter in action. In 2013, the auditor general issued a scathing report which said National Defence did not have enough, nor the right kind, of helicopters devoted to search and rescue in this country. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The same considerations will be at play should Canada's Liberal government opt to go down the refurbishment road. 

No costs or timelines were attached to the notice posted on Thursday

In 2013, the auditor general issued a scathing report that said National Defence did not have enough, nor the right kind, of helicopters devoted to search and rescue in this country. 

Specifically, Michael Ferguson questioned the air force's use of CH-146 Griffon helicopters out of the air base in Trenton, Ont. The light utility helicopters cannot make it to the Arctic or other remote destinations without refuelling. 

The Griffons were placed in Central Canada because the Cormorants, purchase by the Liberals in the late 1990s and early 2000s, were often unavailable because of an infuriating shortage of spare parts. 

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